Archive for July, 2013

Before dinosaurs could fly, some had flight-ready brains

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 31, 2013   View Article

Dinosaurs evolved the brain power necessary for flight well before they took to the air as birds, according to a new study. The finding suggests that Archaeopteryx, often considered a transitional species between dinosaurs and living birds, wasn’t all that special.

“The same neurological capacity that Archaeopteryx has is also in these other non-avian dinosaurs,” Amy Balanoff, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the study’s lead author, told NBC News.

Will fences save Africa’s lion king?

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 30, 2013   View Article

The world’s remaining lions are in trouble. There are simply too many humans hungry for the same land the majestic cats roam. The more the human population grows, the more the lion population plummets. Only fences can keep one species from killing the other, according to a leading lion researcher.

In fenced reserves such as South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is as large as the state of New Jersey, “the population of lions is doing just fine,” Craig Packer, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota, told NBC News from his research site in Tanzania.

“However, that is just a small proportion of the total African population of lions. The vast majority of lions live in unfenced reserves and … the trends are pretty disturbing,” he added.

Snail’s love dart works like a syringe – a first, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 30, 2013   View Article

When certain hermaphrodite snails — that is they are male and female at the same time — mate, they stab each other with so-called love darts. Now, for the first time, scientists have discovered a snail species with a love dart that works like an injection needle.

The syringe-like dart delivers a “gland product” to the partner snail “via channels within the dart and comes out through the holes that are present on the side of the dart,” Joris Koene, an ecologist at Vrije University in Amsterdam, explained to NBC News in an email.

Inca child sacrifices were drunk, stoned for weeks before death

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 29, 2013   View Article

Three Inca children found mummified atop a 20,000-foot volcano in South America consumed increasing amounts of coca leaf and corn beer for up to a year before they were sacrificed, according to a new study.

Sedation by the plant and alcohol combined with the frigid, high-altitude setting may explain how the children were killed. There is no evidence for direct violence, the researchers noted.

The coca leaf and corn beer consumption rises about six months before death and then skyrockets in the final weeks, especially for the eldest, a 13-year-old girl known as the “Ice Maiden.”

“She was probably heavily sedated by the point at which she succumbs to death,” Andrew Wilson, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom and the study’s lead author, told NBC News.

‘Runaway greenhouse’ easier to trigger on Earth than thought, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 28, 2013   View Article

It’s plausible that conditions on Earth could get so hot and steamy that the oceans entirely evaporate and render the planet inhospitable to life, according to new calculations that suggest this so-called runaway greenhouse is easier to initiate than previously believed.

“We could go into the runaway greenhouse today if we could get the planet hot enough to get enough water vapor into the atmosphere,” Colin Goldblatt, a professor of Earth system evolution at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, and lead author of the study, told NBC News.

The reality, though, he said, is that burning all the planet’s fossil fuels such as oil and coal is “very unlikely” to trigger the uncontrollable warming.

Frogs in high mountains are contaminated with farm chemicals, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 26, 2013   View Article

What gets sprayed on the farm doesn’t stay on the farm, suggests a new study that finds frogs living in mountains far away from agricultural fields are contaminated with a range of pesticides, particularly fungicides, used to protect crops from bugs, weeds and molds.

“These fungicides have not been reported in the amphibians to date,” study leader Kelly Smalling, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told NBC News.

Greenhouse gas escaping in the Arctic could cause economic harm, experts say

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 24, 2013   View Article

Methane bubbling to the surface as the Arctic sea ice retreats could have catastrophic consequences for the global economy, a team of researchers argue in a new paper. To avoid the economic pain measured in tens of trillions of dollars over the coming century will “require major reductions in global emissions” of greenhouse gases, the team concludes.

The economic fallout will come from an added uptick in extreme weather, rising seas, reduced crop yields and other impacts already associated with global climate change.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach