The Triassic–Jurassic boundary 200 million years ago marked the beginning of the dinosaurs’ dominance of the entire planet. Following the worst ever extinction event at the end of the Permian, 252 mya, dinosaurs started showing up in the fossil record around 245 mya but did not spread to all areas of the globe until the end of the Triassic. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) posits one possible explanation for why the spread of dinosaurs was stymied. Sadly, this interesting but not conclusive report was immediately seized upon by climate alarmists as a cautionary tale about atmospheric CO2 levels. A news item in Science online labels modern levels “alarming” and implies that a fiery fate, like the one that held the dinosaurs at bay for so long ago, awaits us all.
A 17-meter-wide asteroid that no one saw coming exploded in February near Chelyabinsk, Russia, blazing across the sky and television screens world wide. Efforts have been made to identify asteroids larger than a kilometer—objects large enough to threaten life on Earth. Hollywood has cranked out dozens of cheesy asteroid collision movies, some bad and others worse, but none capture the magnitude of the actual threat from near Earth objects (NEOs). There may be a million asteroids with masses greater than ocean liners in Earth-approaching orbits, nearly all of which remain undiscovered and their courses uncharted. Now, a private foundation wants to build Sentinel, a satellite containing an infrared telescope that would be able to detect a half-million orbiting objects from a vantage point near Venus. Is this a project too important to trust to government agencies like NASA and the ESA?
Most people have never heard of the Anthropocene era and with good reason—it is not an officially recognized geologic time period. It is the invention of a small group of scientific busy bodies who evidently have nothing better to do than try to effect a change in the official timeline of Earth's past. The International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, has been petitioned in the past and just recently a group of chuckle-heads attending the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Hawaii have brought the idea up again. Only problem is, the proponents of the Anthropocene have fallen to arguing amongst themselves—when did the “Age of Man” really start?
Recent comet sightings and the fiery path blazed across Russian skies by a large meteor have people pondering the possibility of a collision between Earth and some other heavenly body. Lost in the discussion is news from NASA that Mars is on schedule for a close encounter of its own in 2014, and the visiting comet may actually strike the red planet. Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will be rendezvousing with Mars in October 2014, most likely passing by the planet at roughly the height of an earthly communication satellite. Estimates of the minimum distance between planet and comet range from about 100,000 km and 0, meaning a collision. If the comet does collide with Mars it is estimated the blast will be equivalent to that of a billion megatons of TNT. It would be an event of the same magnitude as the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
In 2009, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, decided the Anthropocene concept “has some merit.” To investigate further they formed the Anthropocene Working Group, which published their initial findings this past February in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. The group reported a wide range of human impacts that could leave a stratigraphically significant mark on the planet's geological record. There is no doubt that humans have changed the world we live in, but has the change been significant enough to declare a whole new epoch? The Anthropocene debate is continuing this week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.
Tyrannosaurs, the group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relatives, are the most iconic and most studied of the dinosaurs. Made famous by movies, television shows and books, T. rex is the image most people think of when they hear the word dinosaur. The popular image of a tyrannosaur is that of a gigantic meat eater, like the one shown in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, but this was not always the case. T. rex was initially described 105 years ago by H. F. Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. New fossil finds, including six new species during the past year alone, have shown tyrannosaurs to be a more diverse group that was first thought. A phylogeny that includes recently described species shows that tyrannosaurs originated by the Middle Jurassic but remained mostly small and ecologically marginal until the Late Cretaceous.
Even with all of the recent scandal surrounding the purveyors of climate change pap, many in the “news media” continue to crank out party-line articles blaming all of Earth's ecological woes on humanity. After decades of trying to alarm the public over a human caused “sixth mass extinction” and more recently, dwindling diversity, some in the media just can't let go of AGW as the root of all evil. A perfect example of this appeared recently in the font of misinformation that is Yahoo News. Blaming every human activity from hunting to climate change, science writer Jeremy Hsu has once again raised the specter of that old shibboleth, the Anthropocene Epoch. This is all a part of a developing trend to elevate falling species diversity to crisis level, mainly because the world's eco-activists need a replacement issue for climate change.
Throughout Earth’s history, there is evidence of large carbon dioxide releases, greenhouse conditions, ocean acidification, and major changes in marine life. About 120 million years ago (mya), during the early part of the Cretaceous period, a series of massive volcanic eruptions pumped huge amounts of carbon dioxide into Earth's atmosphere. During the Aptian Oceanic Anoxic Event, atmospheric CO2 content rose to about twice today's level. Eventually, the oceans absorbed much of that CO2, which significantly increased the water's acidity. The change reduced the amount of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the water, making it difficult for creatures such as some kinds of plankton to form shells. But the plankton did not die out. In fact, the geological record indicates that ocean biota can adapt to CO2 concentrations as high as 2000 to 3000 ppm—five to eight times current levels.
According to a recent paper, human actions may have caused Earth's climate to warm much earlier than previously expected. In an article to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, and widely reported in the media, around 15,000 years ago, early hunters were a major factor in driving mammoths to extinction. Supposedly, this die-off had the side effect of heating up the planet. This is an interesting conjecture, since a letter just published in Nature Geocience reaches the opposite conclusion regarding climate and the mammoths' decline. This mammoth confusion illustrates the uncertain and even contradictory evidence that abounds in climate science.
Recently this site posted an article about the extinction event 65.5 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period. That extinction coincided with a large asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico, and occurred within the time of Deccan flood basalt volcanism in India. A new review article by 41 scientists, published in the March 5, 2010, edition of Science, was cited that summarized what science thinks it knows about the extinction. That article reinforced the single cause asteroid impact extinction scenario. Now, in an excellent example of how the scientific process works, and why scientific consensus is such a bogus term, the May 21 issue of Science has published a number of letters that take exception to the previous article's conclusions.
Once again, scientists propose that planet Earth has been so altered by human activity that we are entering a new geological time period—the Anthropocene. A viewpoint article by some stratigraphic heavy hitters, just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, has proclaimed a new age caused by anthropogenic global warming and man's savaging of the environment. According to these experts, the effects of human activity have become so pervasive that Earth has been transformed and the 11,000 year old Holocene epoch is now a “lost world.” Is this really the start of a brave new epoch, one of our own making?
Although the story of the “Asteroid that killed the Dinosaurs” has become common knowledge for most people, there are still those scientists who back alternative causes of the end Cretaceous extinction even. Volcanoes, multiple meteor strikes and even widespread forest fires have been suggested as the cause of the dinosaurs' demise. The extinction event 65.5 million years ago did coincide with a large asteroid impact at Chicxulub, Mexico, and occurred within the time of Deccan flood basalt volcanism in India. A new review article by 41 scientists in the March 5 edition of Science runs down the list of what science thinks it knows about the extinction that set the stage for the age of mammals.
Recently, a number of papers have surfaced that use advanced statistical methods to analyze climate data. The techniques involved have been developed not by climate scientists but by economists and social scientists. These new tools belong to the field of econometrics. The use of statistical break tests and polynomial cointegration to analyze the relationships between time series data for greenhouse gas concentrations, insolation, aerosol levels and temperature have shown that these data are non-stationary. The implication of these findings is that much of the statistical analysis applied by climate scientists is flawed and potentially misleading. So strong is the statistical evidence that a couple of economists are claiming to have refuted the theory of anthropogenic global warming. This, on top of everything else that has recently transpired, may indicate that a climate change paradigm shift is imminent.
There have been a number of strange theories regarding the conditions deep within Earth's interior circulating around the internet. Claims that solar flares will cause nuclear reactions deep below our feet are perhaps the most ludicrous, but fairly easy to dismiss. More timely, perhaps, is the sudden conversion of global warming guru Al Gore into a geothermal energy booster. Evidently Gore thinks it's bad to drill for oil, but good to drill for heat. TV documentaries threaten mega-volcano eruptions and talk about mantle plumes underneath Hawaii, but just what does science tell us about our planet's interior?
Recent claims by climate change alarmists have raised the possibility that terrestrial ecosystems and particularly the oceans have started loosing part of their ability to absorb a large proportion of man-made CO2 emissions. This is an important claim, because currently only about 40% of anthropogenic emissions stay in the atmosphere, the rest is sequestered by a number of processes on land and sea. The warning that the oceans have reached their fill and their capacity to remove atmospheric CO2 is accompanied by the prediction that this will cause greenhouse warming to accelerate in the future. A new study re-examines the available atmospheric CO2 and emissions data and concludes that the portion of CO2 absorbed by the oceans has remained constant since 1850.