Researchers have worked out how rib-extensions helped a 225 million year old reptile glide through the air, with a little help from a wind tunnel. Although the weird rib-growths of Kuehneosuchus and Kuehneosaurus were long thought to be related to flight it was not clear how they worked, says Koen Stein, who did the work when a palaeobiology student at the University of Bristol in the UK. To help understand the flight of the two Kuehns, Stein and colleagues built models of the two very similar reptiles and stuck them in a wind tunnel. To their surprise, they found that Kuehneosuchus was aerodynamically very stable. Jumping from a five-meter tree, it could easily have crossed nine meters distance before landing on the ground. The other form, Kuehneosaurus, was more of a parachutist than a glider.
Archive for October, 2008
In March last year, the London’s Natural History Museum discovered a tiny red and black bug in its grounds. By August it was the most common insect found in the museum’s Wildlife Garden. Checking the bug against the museum’s insect collection produced no match. Although there was a resemblance to a rare species called Arocatus roeselii, this insect is found in alder trees, not the plane trees where the new bug was discovered. This frustrated the museum personnel that in the garden of the biggest museum in the world there was an insect that they couldn’t identify. In a further twist the National Museum in Prague discovered an exact match for the bug, an insect from Nice classified as Arocatus roeselii. There could be two possible explanations. That the bug is roeselii and by switching to feed on the plane trees it could suddenly become more abundant, successful and invasive. The other possibility is that the insect in the museum’s grounds may not be roeselii at all.
President Bush had hoped that Congress would join him in lifting the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. But, since they have not even held a hearing on the issue, Bush announced he would wait no longer, and lifted the presidential ban his father put in place 18 years ago. As Congress has its own ban, Bush’s move will have no consequences on its own. But he hopes the announcement will goad legislators into action. Even if the Congressional ban were lifted tomorrow, the oil won’t reach consumer’s gas tanks for at least ten years. Bush says the drilling could ultimately yield 18 billion barrels of oil which sounds like a lot, until you consider that the country uses 20 million barrels a day. At that rate, the 18 billion barrels would keep the country going an additional 2 ½ years.
Russian scientists have abandoned their polar research base after the ice it was floating on started melting faster than expected. The 20 polar researchers and their two dogs climbed on board a research icebreaker and all scientific programs at the station have been stopped. The research base was set up in September on a five kilometers by three kilometers ice flow which averaged 1.5 thick. By the time the scientists abandoned base on Sunday, it was just 600 meters by 300 meters. This year’s Arctic melt started early than usual and there’s a bit of a trend for less Arctic ice.
According to a government report, the United States this year will have spent at least $100 billion on contractors in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, a milestone that reflects the Bush administration’s unprecedented level of dependence on private firms for help in the war. The report, by the Congressional Budget Office says that one out of every five dollars spent on the war in Iraq has gone to contractors for the United States military and other government agencies. The Pentagon’s reliance on outside contractors in Iraq is proportionately far larger than in any previous conflict, and it has fueled charges that this outsourcing has led to overbilling, fraud and shoddy and unsafe work that has endangered and even killed American troops.
Gray wolves in the US Rocky Mountains are back on the endangered species list after four months unlisted. The US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) decreed in March that the wolf population, in the western states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, no longer needed federal oversight. Wolf control passed to the states, which made plans to open hunting season on the predators this fall. Environmental groups sued. In a recent finding, a judge sided with the environmentalists, temporarily putting wolves back on the list until the court case is finished. Gray wolves are still considered endangered in the rest of the continental U.S., except in a region around the Great Lakes.
The case of a freelance photographer in Iraq who was barred from covering the Marines after he posted photos on the Internet of several of them dead has underscored what some journalists say is a growing effort by the American military to control graphic images from the war. Zoriah Miller, the photographer who took images of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of the country. Opponents of the war, civil liberties advocates and journalists argue that the public portrayal of the war is being sanitized and that Americans who choose to do so have the right to see the human cost of a war that polls consistently show is unpopular with Americans.
Auditors at a Pentagon oversight agency were pressured by supervisors to skew their reports on major defense contractors to make them look more favorable instead of exposing wrongdoing and charges of overbilling, according to an 80-page report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office. The Defense Contract Audit Agency, which oversees contractors for the Defense Department, improperly influenced the audit scope, conclusions and opinions of reviews of contractor performance, the GAO said, creating a serious independence issue. The report does not name the projects or the contractors involved, but staff members on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who were briefed on the findings cited seven contractors, some of whom are among the biggest in the defense industry: Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Fluor, Parker Hannifin, Sparta, SRS Technologies and a subsidiary of L3 Communications.
Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the CIA’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes. The International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the CIA last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were categorically torture, which is illegal under both American and international law. It was reported that Abu Zubaydah was confined in a box so small he had to double up his limbs in the fetal position and was one of several prisoners to be slammed against the walls, according to the Red Cross report. The CIA has admitted that Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners were waterboarded.
Gas is well over $4 a gallon, the president has lifted a moratorium on offshore oil drilling, and Americans are upset about high electricity bills. Al Gore, the former vice-president turned climate guru, outlined his latest vision in a speech in Washington DC recently. He wasted no time in trying to amp up the urgency factor, saying early on that the future of human civilization is at stake. Gore then gave examples, from melting Greenland glaciers to national security implications, in calling for Americans to shift entirely to renewable energy sources within a decade. Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens has taken out television and print advertisements for his Pickens Plan to boost the use of renewables, particularly wind.
A mathematical glitch means we’ve been massively underestimating how at risk endangered species are, according to a paper in this week’s Nature. By failing to include random variations in individuals within a species, such as size and male-to-female sex ratios, risk estimates have been out by up to 100 times, say Brett Melbourne, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Alan Hasting, of the University of California, Davis. Which means animals like the Sumatran tiger could go extinct 100 times faster than we thought. This seems subtle and technical, but it turns out to be important.
Dee Boersma, a biologist at the University of Washington, has just written a new article in the journal BioScience warning that penguins, the animals that she has been studying for 30 years, are ‘sentinels’, and these ‘canaries in the mine’ are telling that danger is present with their declining population numbers. The danger is a combination of climate change, fishing and pollution. She says that penguins are among those species that show us that we are making fundamental changes to our world. The fate of all species is to go extinct, but there are some species that go extinct before their time and we are facing that possibility with some penguins.
It is a mistaken idea that Iraqis want us to stay in Iraq. They do not. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has publicly said that he wants to negotiate a withdrawal date for U.S. forces and if not an exact date, a timetable for their withdrawal. Maliki made this statement trying to fend off his young firebrand Shiite rival, Muqtada al-Sadr, who wants the U.S. out yesterday. It appears that at least 70 percent of Iraqis want Americans to leave either immediately or expeditiously. Here at home, about 60 percent of Americans want U.S. forces to be withdrawn within the next year.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pledged to cover costs of civilian lawyers defending alleged terrorists, is in a struggle with the U.S. Treasury Department over a permit to pay $250-an-hour fees and other expenses to attorneys who have been shuttling to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo. ACLU director Anthony Romero accused the Bush administration of foot-dragging, noting civilian defense lawyers were slow to receive security clearances to meet accused terrorists held for years without access to attorneys. The program is called the John Adams Project, sponsored by the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Under it, attorneys will be paid for travel, expenses, research and copying as well as $250 an hour to defend men now facing death penalty prosecutions at the war court.
Coal is finally getting a bad rap. For example, in America, a judge in Georgia has cancelled a permit for a new coal power station citing carbon dioxide emissions concerns. Environmentalists think this is the beginning of the end of conventional coal-fired power plants, because of the enormity of their emissions. In the UK, a think tank is recommending a minimum two-year block on coal-power investment. The Institute for Public Policy Research says this is needed to hit Europe’s 21% reduction in heavy industry greenhouse emissions by 2020. Finally, in Australia, eco-campaigners have decried a new AU$750 million coal power plant as “complete madness”.