Home Blog

Brazilian researchers discover dinosaur fossil after heavy rains in Rio Grande do Sul

A team of Brazilian scientists has discovered a fossilized skeleton of what they believe is one of the world’s oldest dinosaurs after heavy rains in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul accelerated the natural process of erosion.

The fossil found next to a reservoir in the municipality of Sao Joao do Polesine is around 233 million years old, according to paleontologist Rodrigo Temp Müller, who led the team from the Federal University of Santa Maria that found the bones in May.

The claims have not been verified by other scientists or published in a scientific journal.

The researcher believes the dinosaur lived during the Triassic period, when all continents were part of a single land mass called Pangaea. Dinosaurs are thought to have first evolved at that time.

The apex predator discovered in Rio Grande do Sul belongs to the group known as Herrerasauridae—a family of dinosaurs that used to wander across lands that now make up present-day Brazil and Argentina, according to a fact sheet about the discovery shared with The Associated Press.

The size of the bones reveals that the dinosaur would have reached around 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in length, according to the document.

Rodrigo Temp Müller said that he and his team were “very excited and surprised” by their findings.

After around four days of excavations, the group of researchers transported a block of rock containing the specimen back to the laboratory, where they ran tests.

“Initially it seemed like just a few isolated bones, but as we exposed the material, we were able to see that we had an almost complete skeleton,” Müller said.

The expert hypothesizes that their discovery is the second most complete skeleton for this type of dinosaur.

Researchers will now try to determine whether the fossil belongs to an already-known species or a new kind. That work is expected to take several months, as the process is meticulous to ensure no damaged is caused.

Fossils are more likely to appear after rains, as water exposes the materials by removing the sediment that covers them, in a phenomenon known as weathering.

Rio Grande do Sul saw record amounts of rainfall earlier this year. That caused devastating floods in May that killed at least 182 people, according to a toll published by the state’s civil defense on July 8.

Extreme weather events are made more likely by climate change, principally caused by the burning of oil, gas and coal.

Müller said that more fossils are appearing because of the heavy rains, which has launched a race against time to rescue the materials before they are ruined.

In the field, his team observed “a leg bone and a pelvis bone in the pelvic region that were already being destroyed due to the rain,” he said.

Müller hopes the discovery will contribute to elucidate the origins of dinosaurs.

“Having new fossils that are so well preserved certainly helps us better understand this topic that is still much debated,” he said.

© 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Tracing millions of years of geologic stress in the Andean Plateau

The Andean Plateau in South America rises, on average, more than 4,000 meters above sea level, formed by orogenic uplift that began more than 20 million years ago. Orogeny occurs at convergent plate margins as compressed plates crumple upward, resulting in mountain ranges and associated geological features.

Researching the formation of this massive plateau, second only to the Tibetan Plateau in terms of height and breadth, could improve scientific understanding of similar regions around the world.

In a study published in Tectonics, Rodrigo Quiroga and colleagues combined multiple data sources to track the evolution of stress and crustal deformation across the Puna region in the south central Andean Plateau over the past 24 million years.

The researchers used satellite imagery to map the current structural features of the plateau. With a technique called forward modeling, they used the results of this mapping to reconstruct the geometric shifts of past deformations.

They also used uranium-lead dating to determine the ages of zircons—hardy minerals whose makeup can provide clues about the conditions in which they formed—from the region. The zircon ages helped them track regional shifts in the magnitude and orientations of stresses affecting the plateau.

The team separated the plateau’s evolution into four stages, with the first characterized by east–west compression, the last dominated by a strike-slip regime, and the middle two being transitional states between the two regimes.

Understanding the Andean Plateau’s uplift in a changing stress regime, rather than in a uniform state over time, has implications for broader research into how mountain ranges form. The progression identified in the new study is similar to orogenic evolutions proposed for the Tibetan Plateau and the Peruvian Andes, according to the authors.

However, regions such as the Tibetan Plateau have already reached critical stress levels, which cause the crust to spread and thin in a process known as orogenic collapse. In contrast, the new results indicate an absence of normal faulting on the Andean Plateau, suggesting it is not yet collapsing.

More information: R. Quiroga et al, Boundary Effects of Orogenic Plateaus in the Evolution of the Stress Field: The Southern Puna Study Case (26°30′–27°30′S), Tectonics (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2023TC008185

Provided by American Geophysical Union 

This story is republished courtesy of Eos, hosted by the American Geophysical Union. Read the original story here.

How old are South African fossils like the Taung Child? Study offers an answer

One hundred years ago, the discovery of a skull in South Africa’s North West province altered our understanding of human evolution. The juvenile skull was dubbed the Taung Child by Raymond Dart, an anatomist at the University of the Witwatersrand, who first described it.

In 1924 Dart could not say exactly how old it was, but he announced that it belonged to a new species which he named Australopithecus africanus. It was the first evidence that confirmed British naturalist Charles Darwin’s assertion that apes and humans shared a long-ago common ancestor and that humanity originated from Africa.

Following on from the Taung Child, new discoveries of Australopithecus africanus were made, many at Sterkfontein, about 70km south-west of Pretoria. Sterkfontein is located within the “Cradle of Humankind”, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

In the century since the Taung Child was found and described, a great debate has developed about the geological ages of the Australopithecus fossils found at Sterkfontein as well as those from Taung and a third site, Makapansgat.

Much of the controversy is centered on Sterkfontein. Some researchers put the ages of fossils from a particular area (called “Member 4”) at between 3.4 million and 3.7 million years old. Others estimate that those fossils are much younger, dating back to between 2 million and 2.6 million years ago. The differences arise from the dating methods used by the opposing teams. Each has published articles rejecting the other’s methods.

Now the controversy may be a step closer to resolution. With my colleague Sue Dykes (who sadly passed away in 2019), I have used a different approach, applied directly to the fossil teeth of hominins (distant relatives of humankind), to estimate the Sterkfontein Australopithecus fossils’ ages. Our results for Member 4 suggest that the fossils range in age between about 2 million and 3.5 million years. This spans a period wider than previously thought, encompassing the ages estimated by the opposing teams.

Our method also allowed us to date the Taung Child to 2.58 million years ago.

We believe our method is accurate. But there will, no doubt, be other studies using other methods. We are dealing with a question that’s vexed scientists for decades and the quest to definitively say when these ancient members of our family tree existed in South Africa will continue.

One issue that hangs on the answer is the identification of the region from which our genus (Homo) originated: was it in South Africa or east Africa, from an ancestral australopithecine species?

Varying methods

One reason it’s been difficult to accurately date the Sterkfontein Australopithecus is that the initial discoveries were made in the course of mining for limestone, using dynamite. That means the context of the fossils was lost.

However, at Sterkfontein and elsewhere in South Africa, fossils have been found of animal species also found in east Africa. Volcanic deposits in east Africa have traces of potassium (K) and argon (Ar) which allow for accurate K/Ar radiometric dating.

Unfortunately, active volcanoes did not occur in South Africa in the period of concern, between 2 million and 5 million years ago. But comparisons can be made between fossils of species from the two areas, including bovids (antelope such as wildebeest, hartebeest and kudu), suids (such as warthogs), and monkeys as well as gelada baboons.

Since the east African fossils can be well dated using the accurate K/Ar radiometric method, the ages of the same species in South Africa can be estimated. This approach is referred to as biochronology and is how one set of researchers in the debate reached their conclusion: that the Sterkfontein fossils from Member 4 are between 2 million and 2.6 million years old. Essentially the same ages have been obtained from uranium-lead and paleomagnetic studies.

The group that sets the fossils’ ages at between 3.4 million and 3.7 million years old, meanwhile, used an approach called cosmogenic nuclide dating. They reached their conclusions by using the elements beryllium and aluminum to estimate the ages of chert (a type of sedimentary rock) in the Sterkfontein cave deposits associated with hominin fossils from Member 4.

Our approach

We also used a biochronological approach for dating. But, rather than using animal teeth, we worked directly from measurements of the Australopithecus fossils’ teeth.

We examined ratios of length and breadth of the lower first molars of east African hominins. Then, using an equation that we developed, we quantified a relationship between those ratios and geological age for our sample of Tanzanian, Kenyan and Ethiopian fossils, including Australopithecus afarensis and early Homo species such as H. habilis. The dates for these have been well established.

Under an assumption that the age of South African fossils representing the same genera could be estimated from the same relationship, we applied the equation to lower first molar teeth from Sterkfontein, notably to those attributed to Australopithecus as well as early Homo, for which tooth ratios could be determined. In this way we have been able to obtain dates for individual molars.

Our approach has been applied to molar teeth of the Taung Child, with a new result of 2.58 million years for this specimen of Australopithecus africanus.

Two teeth of Australopithecus from Makapansgat have also been dated using our method. The specimens are 3.07 million and 3.00 million years old, respectively. This is in good agreement with earlier estimates using paleomagnetism.

We have also used our method to try to date fossils attributed to the hominin species referred to as Australopithecus sediba, found at Malapa near Sterkfontein. Our dates for two teeth representing this species (cataloged as MH1 and MH2) are respectively 2.14 million and 1.93 million years. This corresponds extremely well with the age of 1.98 million years obtained through methods using uranium, lead and paleomagnetism.

Provided by The Conversation 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explore further

Scientists have confirmed a cave on the moon that could be used to shelter future explorers

Scientists have confirmed a cave on the moon, not far from where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed 55 years ago, and suspect there are hundreds more that could house future astronauts.

An Italian-led team reported Monday that there’s evidence for a sizable cave accessible from the deepest known pit on the moon. It’s located at the Sea of Tranquility, just 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Apollo 11’s landing site.

The pit, like the more than 200 others discovered up there, was created by the collapse of a lava tube.

Researchers analyzed radar measurements by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and compared the results with lava tubes on Earth. Their findings appeared in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The radar data reveals only the initial part of the underground cavity, according to the scientists. They estimate it’s at least 130 feet (40 meters) wide and tens of yards (meters) long, probably more.

“Lunar caves have remained a mystery for over 50 years. So it was exciting to be able to finally prove the existence of one,” Leonardo Carrer and Lorenzo Bruzzone of the University of Trento, wrote in an email.

Most of the pits seem to be located in the moon’s ancient lava plains, according to the scientists. There also could be some at the moon’s south pole, the planned location of NASA’s astronaut landings later this decade. Permanently shadowed craters there are believed to hold frozen water that could provide drinking water and rocket fuel.

During NASA’s Apollo program, 12 astronauts landed on the moon, beginning with Armstrong and Aldrin on July 20, 1969.

The findings suggest there could be hundreds of pits on the moon and thousands of lava tubes. Such places could serve as a natural shelter for astronauts, protecting them from cosmic rays and solar radiation as well as from micrometeorite strikes. Building habitats from scratch would be more time-consuming and challenging, even when factoring in the potential need of reinforcing the cave walls to prevent a collapse, the team said.

Rocks and other material inside these caves—unaltered by the harsh surface conditions over the eons—also can help scientists better understand how the moon evolved, especially involving its volcanic activity

More information: Leonardo Carrer, Radar evidence of an accessible cave conduit on the Moon below the Mare Tranquillitatis pit, Nature Astronomy (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41550-024-02302-ywww.nature.com/articles/s41550-024-02302-y

Journal information: Nature Astronomy 

© 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

A walking balloon could one day explore Titan—or Earth’s sea floor

Novel ways to move on other celestial bodies always draw the attention of the space exploration community. Here at UT, we’ve reported on everything from robots that suspend themselves from the walls of Martian caves to robots that hop using jets of locally mined gas. But we haven’t yet reported on the idea of a balloon that “walks.”

But that is the idea behind the BALloon Locomotion for Extreme Terrain, or BALLET, a project from Hari Nayar, a Principal Roboticist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his colleagues.

How exactly does a balloon “walk,” you might ask? By picking up and moving one of its six feet. BALLET’s architecture involves a positively buoyant balloon supporting six “feet” attached to adjustable cables. The “feet” are small science packages capable of taking small surface samples or analyzing the chemical composition of the part of the surface it touches.

Each foot is attached to three cables, individually controlled by pulleys. When a foot is done doing its science work at a given location, BALLET retracts the cables for the foot, lifting it off the surface. It then extends the cables using different lengths for the cables to place the foot in a new location.

Preliminary research on the concept was done as part of a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant in 2018. That research showed that it was better to lift two opposing feet off the ground at the same time to ensure the balloon’s stability. It also demonstrated where the concept would be most useful—Titan.

Balloon locomotion is typically considered somewhere like Venus, where it could float in the atmosphere in conditions similar to Earth. However, that altitude would make controlling a payload placed on the ground exceedingly tricky. Additionally, the harsh conditions close enough to the ground to be feasible would make the material requirements of the system untenable.

Similarly, a balloon could also work on Mars, but the high wind speeds of the sparse atmosphere would make controlling the balloon difficult. Titan offers the best of both worlds—a relatively stable, thick atmosphere where a negatively buoyant balloon would be feasible and stable environmental conditions that wouldn’t blow BALLET everywhere.

It also has many interesting places to explore, including cryovolcanoes and methane lakes. BALLET would allow traversal over even some of the most difficult terrain without accounting for considerations that would dramatically affect the capabilities of either a rover or a helicopter, such as the planned Dragonfly mission.

There are still plenty of design considerations, though, such as the difficulty of controlling all the different variables, such as balloon orientation, cable length for each of the 18 cables, and pathfinding, simultaneously. After the completion of the Phase I project, the concept appears to be on hold in terms of receiving further funding from NASA at this point.

However, in terms of applications, BALLET also has some obvious ones on Earth. One that immediately sprang to mind is the collection of “nodules” as part of an undersea mining operation.

Given the increased need for cobalt and other materials provided in those nodules and the bad image that comes from the destruction of the seabed that comes with traditional mining techniques, this idea might be one of those rare space exploration ideas that sooner sees an application on Earth than off of it.

Provided by Universe Today.

Gnatalie is the only green-boned dinosaur found on the planet. She will be on display in LA

The latest dinosaur being mounted at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles is not only a member of a new species—it’s also the only one found on the planet whose bones are green, according to museum officials.

Named “Gnatalie” (pronounced Natalie) for the gnats that swarmed during the excavation, the long-necked, long-tailed herbivorous dinosaur’s fossils got its unique coloration, a dark mottled olive green, from the mineral celadonite during the fossilization process.

While fossils are typically brown from silica or black from iron minerals, green is rare because celadonite forms in volcanic or hydrothermal conditions that typically destroy buried bones. The celadonite entered the fossils when volcanic activity around 50 million to 80 million years ago made it hot enough to replace a previous mineral.

The dinosaur lived 150 million years ago in the late Jurassic Era, making it older than Tyrannosaurus rex—which lived 66 million to 68 million years ago.

Researchers discovered the bones in 2007 in the Badlands of Utah.

“Dinosaurs are a great vehicle for teaching our visitors about the nature of science, and what better than a green, almost 80-foot-long dinosaur to engage them in the process of scientific discovery and make them reflect on the wonders of the world we live in!” Luis M. Chiappe of the museum’s Dinosaur Institute said in a statement about his team’s discovery.

Matt Wedel, anatomist and paleontologist at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona near Los Angeles, said he heard “rumors of a green dinosaur way back when I was in graduate school.”

When he glimpsed the bones while they were still being cleaned, he said they were “not like anything else that I’ve ever seen.”

The dinosaur is similar to a sauropod species called Diplodocus, and the discovery will be published in a scientific paper next year. The sauropod, referring to a family of massive herbivores that includes the Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus, will be the biggest dinosaur at the museum and can be seen this fall in its new welcome center.

John Whitlock, who teaches at Mount Aloysius College, a private Catholic college in Cresson, Pennsylvania, and researches sauropods, said it was exciting to have such a complete skeleton to help fill in the blanks for specimens that are less complete.

“It’s tremendously huge, it really adds to our ability to understand both taxonomic diversity … but also anatomical diversity,” Whitlock said.

The dinosaur was named “Gnatalie” last month after the museum asked for a public vote on five choices that included Verdi, a derivative of the Latin word for green; Olive, after the small green fruit symbolizing peace, joy, and strength in many cultures; Esme, short for Esmeralda, which is Spanish for Emerald; and Sage, a green and iconic L.A. plant also grown in the Natural History Museum’s Nature Gardens.

© 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Along shifting coastlines, scientists bring the future into focus

In the wet, muddy places where America’s rivers and lands meet the sea, scientists from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are unearthing clues to better understand how these vital landscapes are evolving under climate change.

Around 40% of the nation’s population live in coastal counties. The coasts are a linchpin of the economy, hosting the nation’s ports, key energy infrastructure, fisheries and tourism centers, producing $10 trillion in goods and services a year.

Coastal wetlands serve as an effective barrier to absorb flooding impacts and guard against property damage. However, severe storms, chronic sea level rise and increasing infrastructure, plus other stressors present unique challenges for coastal ecosystems.

ORNL researchers gather and analyze data about how water, soils, plants and microbes interact and influence the cycling of carbon and nutrients in these environments.

They collect samples in biomes as varied as the coastal marshes of Louisiana, the mangrove swamps of Texas and the coastal wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. Their goal is to improve the nation’s premier Earth system simulations that help decision-makers prepare for the future.

Elizabeth Herndon, senior staff scientist in ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division, is leading a project examining how water level fluctuations along the Louisiana coastline translate into changes in biogeochemical processes, or the natural cycles of life, earth and chemistry in the environment.

The study involves two sites—one in which a delta is actively growing after part of a river was diverted to reduce urban flooding. The other site is where land is submerging as the sediment supply has been cut off, with soils increasingly inundated and subject to salinization—where soluble salts accumulate—from sea level rise.

The research is part of Herndon’s DOE Early Career Award project focused on how flooding by freshwater and seawater affect interactions between the nutrient phosphate and the elements iron and manganese in coastal ecosystems. The findings will improve predictive modeling capabilities.

Herndon, an environmental geochemist, is working with colleagues to measure and collect water and soil data at the sites. They aim to analyze how flooding and drainage influence environmental conditions—including pH levels, soil moisture, and, most importantly, the system’s redox processes, or reduction-oxidation reactions, which govern chemical transformations in the ecosystem.

In addition to hands-on sampling, the scientists have installed environmental sensors to collect near-real-time data.

“Our goal is to get a sense of the composition of the soil and water, which can point us to important processes happening at the sites as the ecosystem evolves,” Herndon said.

By understanding how these biogeochemical processes vary over space and time, the scientists can pinpoint how the system is dealing with changes such as an influx of phosphorous from the Mississippi River. Phosphorous is a major nutrient for plants and microbes, and it is abundant in the areas Herndon is studying because of fertilizer and industrial runoff.

Whether phosphorous is retained in coastal soils or swept out to sea can influence events like algal blooms and dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. How the nutrient cycles through the ecosystem is largely guided by redox variability—the balance of reduction, or gaining electrons, and oxidation, or losing electrons, among different substances.

When soils are saturated, for example, electrons from decomposing organic matter are transferred to iron oxides instead of oxygen gas, causing the minerals to dissolve and release bound phosphate. Soil drainage reintroduces oxygen gas that reacts with dissolved iron to reform the iron oxides and capture phosphate.

This variability influences the availability of nutrients and energy for organisms, which can affect growth and survival. Redox variability has been underrepresented in land system models, Herndon said.

“We’re generating new knowledge of these systems, where we currently don’t have a lot of geochemical understanding of what’s driving some of the carbon fluxes and other ecosystem processes,” Herndon said.

“We’re digging into what’s happening in the soil that might be influencing plant communities or greenhouse gas fluxes from the system.” By working with colleagues on the modeling side, the scientists use those observations and measurements to inform model development.

Adding the missing piece in Earth-sized simulations

Teri O’Meara, an ORNL environmental scientist with a joint appointment through the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, is collaborating on several projects to better understand the connections between vegetation dynamics and biogeochemical cycling in response to human-induced changes in coastal ecosystems.

In a large, multi-lab DOE project called Coastal Observations, Mechanisms and Predictions Across Systems and Scales, or COMPASS, O’Meara collaborates with modelers and field scientists as a theme co-lead analyzing how drivers such as flooding affect coastal areas.

In one COMPASS experiment, scientists are simulating an environment in Maryland in which forested plots are intermittently flooded with freshwater or saltwater to mimic storm events to understand carbon cycling and tree and plant survival in coastal ecosystems.

O’Meara is also working with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and DOE partners in the Salt March Accretion Response to Temperature Experiment, or SMARTX project, a whole-ecosystem active warming experiment in the Chesapeake Bay that’s dedicated to studying the effects of warming on carbon cycling.

The project has found that coastal wetland methane emissions greatly increase with warming, driven by both biogeochemical and plant trait mechanisms. In another Smithsonian-DOE project, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Nexus, or GENX, scientists are using automated methane chambers to quantify rates of decomposition pathways that regulate methane emissions across different time scales.

“Before the coastal ecology projects we’re collaborating on, there was very little detail about lateral transport of water and sediment incorporated in our land surface models. So, the coastline was inadequately described in our Earth system simulations,” O’Meara said.

“We want to understand the carbon capture and storage potential of these ecosystems and how that can change over time. For instance, plants can trap sediment, which then changes the land’s elevation and in turn alters subsurface biogeochemistry.

“(Coastlines) are one of the most impacted ecosystems,” she added.

“We need the services they provide, but they’re also being pressured by development on land and environmental stress from the oceans. There’s dredging and other measures that can change the sediment supply. There’s sea level rise, and there are temperature changes that influence the vegetation that stabilizes the system. All of these things are happening simultaneously, and it’s impossible to measure everything.”

“So, if we can gain an understanding of the underlying processes at play within the ecosystem, then we can put that in a model and have those processes interact with each other to analyze their influence on survival of the coast, and what we could potentially do to improve resilience to change,” O’Meara said.

Scaling the tiniest element to global impact

The data collected in these projects across different scales, from the microbial life in soils to large-scale ecosystem reactions, are essential to better understand and model Earth-scale land processes.

That’s where ORNL scientist Benjamin Sulman steps in. He is using a suite of biogeochemical and other models to scale these processes and integrate them into the land model of the larger DOE Energy Exascale Earth System Model, or E3SM. The E3SM is an essential capability to understand and predict how the Earth will change in the years ahead under a warming climate.

Sulman’s work to integrate coastal wetland processes in the E3SM Land Model is the subject of his own DOE Early Career Award, drawing on his expertise in modeling biogeochemical cycles and plant-soil interactions.

He’s leading efforts to connect simulations of redox chemistry, tidal hydrology and coastal wetland plant functional types such as salt marsh grasses and mangroves into land model simulations at ecosystem to continental scales.

“What makes these ecosystems so interesting is that they sit at a lot of interfaces between land and water and between freshwater and saltwater,” Sulman said.

“Because of that, they are very dynamic compared to other systems that we might examine. We can see big changes hour-to-hour in the hydrology and biogeochemistry of the coastal system. That’s why they are such hotspots for biogeochemical cycling.”

Coastal areas can store a lot of carbon because they host fast-growing plants, with resulting organic matter buried in sediments—but they can also emit a lot of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide that are produced in flooded soils, Sulman added.

Tidal fluctuations can input salt or freshwater into the system, so there can be tremendous variability at these interfaces. The scientists found when the ecosystems are more salt-influenced, the sulfate cycle tends to overwhelm other elemental cycles, and that feeds into greenhouse gas production, Sulman said.

Lateral transport of water, nutrients and carbon across wetland landscapes can be an important control on coastal carbon and nutrient balance, and ORNL is leveraging the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator, or ATS, to represent that element.

Developed by ORNL and other national laboratories, ATS is a sophisticated model of surface and subsurface flow and transport to better simulate the role of lateral exchanges in coastal systems. Coupling ATS to the E3SM Land Model allows interactions between plants, water flows and subsurface biogeochemistry to be resolved to answer questions that cannot be addressed with simpler models, Sulman said.

“The magnitude of coastal change can be seen in some of the field work ORNL staff is doing today,” he said. “Beth [Herndon] is working on an island in the Mississippi Delta that didn’t exist 50 years ago” as the land shifts. “And if you look at maps of predicted sea level rise, there are a lot of areas along the coast that might not exist 20 to 30 years from now.”

By representing these complex coastal processes, you get an improved representation of the carbon balance in the E3SM Land Model, Sulman said.

Sulman, O’Meara and colleagues reached a milestone recently when they successfully integrated redox reactions and other key coastal ecosystem processes using a biogeochemical model called PFLOTRAN, as detailed inJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. They then demonstrated how coastal processes can be connected into the E3SM Land Model, as detailed in the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems.

Improving models with more frequent observations

The scientists integrated complex biogeochemical processes into the Earth Land Model, simulating interactions between sulfur, iron and carbon cycling and how they respond to salinity, Sulman said.

The researchers also built in plant photosynthetic responses to salinity. By including more frequent observations associated with tides and photosynthesis, the team found they can more clearly analyze changes that significantly influence soil nutrient cycling.

While the work focused on data from Maryland and Massachusetts coastal areas, Sulman said he’s now working with Herndon to conduct similar modeling with data from her Louisiana sites.

In the longer term, Sulman expects to go from evaluating the model at single sites to running simulations across larger gradients of climate and salinity to get at answers for entire regions.

In a related project, part of ORNL’s collaboration in the DOE Southeast Texas Urban Integrated Field Laboratory, Sulman is working with colleagues to simulate wetlands to evaluate the potential impact of salt marsh restoration activities on carbon storage and greenhouse gas fluxes. Projects such as these could be part of larger regional flood management plans, he added.

The work to better represent these evolving ecosystems is ongoing. Herndon recently co-led a DOE workshop on coastal ecology research, bringing together scientists from across the country to discuss knowledge gaps and research priorities going forward.

“(Coastal ecosystems) are both ecologically important and ecologically threatened,” Sulman said. “A lot of the things we depend on in these areas, like fisheries, port systems and wetlands that defend against flooding depend on intact coastal ecosystems.”

By better representing the complex interactions going on in these environments in predictive models, scientists can evaluate potential remedies to ensure infrastructure and natural resource resilience.

More information: Benjamin N. Sulman et al, Integrating Tide‐Driven Wetland Soil Redox and Biogeochemical Interactions Into a Land Surface Model, Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2023MS004002

T. A. O’Meara et al, Developing a Redox Network for Coastal Saltmarsh Systems in the PFLOTRAN Reaction Model, Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences (2024). DOI: 10.1029/2023JG007633

Provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

9,000 evacuated in northeast Canada due to wildfires

Around 9,000 people have been evacuated in northeastern Canada because of raging wildfires, officials said Saturday.

Residents of the towns of Labrador City and Wabush in Newfoundland and Labrador province were ordered to leave their homes, said provincial fire duty officer Jeff Motty.

“We are seeing extreme fire behavior out there. The fire is moving about 50 meters per minute,” Motty said.

Images shared on social media showed lines of cars waiting to fill up at gas stations as the sky was obscured by enormous clouds of smoke.

“It was quite a shock to see that much smoke,” Labrador City resident Stacy Hunt told public broadcaster CBC. “And it’s been in pretty much the same place for hours now.”

In this remote region residents must evacuate more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) east via the only road available.

Motty said that the intensity of the fire made it impossible to use water bombers.

On Saturday morning, Labrador City’s mayor, Belinda Adams, again urged residents to evacuate.

“The fire is still active,” she said in a video posted on social media.

Federal authorities said Friday that the weather had been favorable for limiting fires since the start of summer, but that the country was entering the peak wildfire season.

Last year, the country recorded the worst fire season in its history.

Drier and hotter conditions in many parts of the country caused by climate change have increased the risk of major fires in recent years, according to experts.

Canada is currently battling 575 active fires with more than 400 considered out of control. Many fires have broken out in recent days, particularly in the west of the country that has experienced a heat wave.

© 2024 AFP

3D genome extracted from ‘freeze-dried’ woolly mammoth

About 52,000 years ago, the skinned hide of a Siberian woolly mammoth was exposed to conditions so frigid that it spontaneously freeze-dried, locking its DNA fragments into place.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Cell, scientists reported using this remarkable sample to reconstruct the animal’s genome in three dimensions—a breakthrough that could yield important new insights about extinct species and even boost efforts to bring them back to life.

Until now, ancient DNA specimens have only been found in short, scrambled fragments, severely limiting the amount of information researchers could extract.

“Now we show that, at least under some circumstances, it’s not just those snippets of that DNA that survive, but they survive in such a way that preserves the original arrangement,” co-author Olga Dudchenko, a geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine, told AFP.

Understanding the 3D architecture of an organism’s genome —- the complete set of its DNA—is crucial for identifying which genes are active in specific tissues, revealing why brain cells think, heart cells beat, and immune cells fight disease.

It was long assumed that due to the rapid degradation of very small particles, such information would inevitably be lost to history.

But around a decade ago, an international team of scientists set out to find an ancient sample where the 3D organization of the DNA remained intact such that it could be fully reconstructed with a new analytical technique.

Their quest led them to an exceptionally well-preserved woolly mammoth sample, excavated in northeastern Siberia in 2018.

Whether the hirsute pachyderm -— a female with a distinctive mullet-style hairdo—died naturally or was killed by humans is unknown. However, it does appear that early humans skinned her, leaving tissue around the head, neck, and left ear intact, according to Dudchenko.

Woolly mammoth jerky

The team hypothesizes that the skin cooled and dehydrated, transitioning into a glasslike state that trapped its molecules in place and preserved the shape of its chromosomes, or the threadlike structures that hold DNA strands.

Essentially, they had discovered a piece of freeze-dried woolly mammoth jerky.

To test the resilience of jerky, they subjected lab-made and store-bought beef jerky pieces to a series of tests simulating the kind of damage ancient samples might encounter over millennia.

“We fired a shotgun at it. We ran over it with a car. We had a former starting pitcher for the Houston Astros throw a fastball at it,” said Cynthia Perez Estrada, co-author of the study and a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University.

The jerky would break into tiny bits, shattering as dramatically as window glass at times. “But at the nano-scale, the chromosomes were intact, unchanged,” said Perez Estrada in a statement.

One significant discovery from their research established that mammoths had 28 pairs of chromosomes. The finding aligns with the 28 chromosomal pairs found in elephants, the closest living relatives of mammoths, “but before this study, it was anybody’s guess,” said Dudchenko.

‘Fossil chromosomes’

The team’s analysis also identified several “candidate” genes which might be responsible for what made woolly mammoths woolly—including a gene responsible for long, thick eyelashes, and another associated with sparse sweat glands.

Erez Lieberman Aiden of Baylor College of Medicine, who co-led the team, told AFP that while the researchers’ goal was not to bring mammoths back, the information they gleaned could be used for such efforts.

A Japanese team is looking at cloning woolly mammoths, while a group in the United States is aiming to create genetically “mammothized” elephants.

Within the skin, “96 percent of genes are basically in the same activity state as an elephant,” said Aiden, meaning that scientists working on de-extinction could now focus on the remaining four percent.

The team now hopes that the benefit of their study will extend far beyond their special sample and open a new chapter in paleogenetics if other such “fossil chromosomes” can be found.

The Arctic permafrost remains a promising place to look, and it is also possible that mummification from ancient civilizations in warmer climates could preserve genomic structures too, according to Dudchenko.

More information: Three-dimensional genome architecture persists in a 52,000-year-old woolly mammoth skin sample, Cell (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2024.06.002www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(24)00642-1

Journal information: Cell 

© 2024 AFP

Ancient large kangaroo moved mainly on four legs, according to new research

A type of extinct kangaroo that lived during the Pleistocene around two and a half million to 10 thousand years ago, known as the “giant wallaby,” was a poor hopper, a study by scientists at the University of Bristol has found.

Several large key species of kangaroo, all bigger than modern kangaroos and known as Protemnodon, were previously assumed to have hopped, despite their size. However, findings published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution show that they were mainly quadrupedal and likely used four legs to move around most of the time.

Lead author Billie Jones, a former Masters student in the Bristol Paleobiology program explained, “There had been some speculation in a graduate thesis from the University of Uppsala that it might have been more quadrupedal in its habits compared to living kangaroos.

“This new paper draws on a couple of previous quantitative studies that looked at the anatomy of the humerus (upper arm bone) in a diversity of mammals, and concluded that Protemnodon habitually put more weight on its forelimbs than kangaroos today.”

Previous research has shown that the ankle bones of Protemnodon were unsuited to withstand the stresses of hopping.

The team showed that the limb proportions of Protemnodon were quite unlike that of any living kangaroos, especially the short feet, backing up the proposal that it was mainly quadrupedal, rather than a dedicated hopper like living large kangaroos.

This paper is a quantitative study of limb proportions, plus a more qualitative discussion of some other aspects of the anatomy, in an attempt to confirm the locomotion of this extinct animal.

This provides further evidence that the taxonomic diversity of large kangaroos in the Pleistocene of Australia was matched by locomotor diversity. Supervisor Professor Christine Janis of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences had already shown that extinct sthenurines—a separate subfamily of kangaroos—were bipedal striders rather than hoppers.

This locomotor diversity suggests a greater variety of habitats in the Australian Pleistocene than previously considered, with the continent not as arid as it is currently.

Professor Janis added, “A study of the limb bones, and the bone proportions to each other, shows that the so-called extinct ‘giant wallaby,’ Protemnodon, was likely a poor hopper at best, and probably moved mostly quadrupedally, perhaps bounding on all fours like tree-kangaroos do on the ground.”

More information: Billie Jones et al, Hop, walk or bound? Limb proportions in kangaroos and the probable locomotion of the extinct genus Protemnodon, Journal of Mammalian Evolution (2024). DOI: 10.1007/s10914-024-09725-4

Journal information: Journal of Mammalian Evolution 

Provided by University of Bristol