Paleontologist Ernst Stromer: Discoverer of original Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.
Paleontologist Ernst Stromer: Discoverer of original Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Back in 1911, German paleontologist Ernst Stromer discovered and described the remains of a then new Cretaceous dinosaur he named Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. The strange beast sported a huge sail framed around a series of giant spines that ran down its back. Unfortunately, all Stromer's fossil evidence was destroyed during the hostilities of WW II, when the British Royal Air Force bombed the Munich museum where the fossils were stored. Only a few scientific drawings and a single photograph remain.

Ninety years later an international team of researchers led by paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim returned to Stromer's original dig site and discovered additional specimens of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, and in studying their fossils have come to some startling new conclusions about the strange dinosaur.

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus
Spinosaurus aegyptiacusCourtesy University of Chicago Fossil Lab
Spinosaurus was a big boy - nine feet longer than the largest known Tyrannosaurus rex. And despite a long-held notion that dinosaurs were strictly terrestrial - i.e. they only dwelled on land (although like us, they probably occasionally swam in water), S. aegyptiacus appears to have spent much of his life in water, feeding on fish, and when on land (e.g to lay eggs) probably walked on all-fours, unlike every other known predatory dinosaur.

The new findings are published online on the Science Express website, and in the October issue of National Geographic.

Paul Sereno, vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Chicago and a member of the research team, explains some of the new knowledge gleaned from the newly discovered fossil bones.

University of Chicago report
Science Daily story

Imagine the thrill of doing something like this. Adventurers George Kourounis and Sam Cossman, along with two other fellow explorers spent four days investigating Marum Crater on Ambrym Island in the South Pacific. Kourounis and Cossman made two descents into the cauldron to capture this spectacular (if not totally insane) footage. Somebody had to do it.

The Icelandic volcano, Bardarbunga, has been rumbling over the past week but is erupting now providing spectators (and the rest of us) with some very stunning views. Go here to enjoy some of the spectacular photographs available on the Guardian website.

Here's a video look at fossil pieces of Dreadnoughtus, the huge sauropod dinosaur found in Argentina recently.

StonehengeCourtesy Lucille Pine
Stonehenge, the ancient semi-ring of massive sarsen stones standing upright on England's Salisbury Plain continues to give up more of its secrets. Recent analysis of grassy areas long thought to be stone-free may well have contained rock slabs that formed a complete circle with the rest of the huge monoliths. An English Heritage steward, employed to maintain the antiquity grounds, said because the water hose couldn't reach the far end of the site, he noticed some patches of parched grass that seemed to indicate stones had once stood on the spots. Archeologists were brought in to examine the evidence, and published their study in the archaeological journal Antiquity.



A walking test rock in Death Valley: A test rock fitted with a GPS unit shows evidence of movement across the ice covered Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.
A walking test rock in Death Valley: A test rock fitted with a GPS unit shows evidence of movement across the ice covered Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.Courtesy Mike Hartmann via PLoS One
Since the 1940s the "walking rocks" of Death Valley's Racetrack Playa have mystified visitors and scientists alike. Rocks of various size (up to 700 lbs!) somehow move across the dry lakebed. Nobody ever seemed to witness their actual movement, but the rocks definitely did move, leaving long telltale tracks behind. What was the cause? High winds? Slippery slopes of algae? Aliens? No one could say for certain.

Now, a research team from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego has tackled the problem and seems to have solved the mystery.

The unusual phenomenon, it turns out, requires a special sequence of events that the environment at Racetrack Playa evidently provides.

The first step requires the playa's basin to fill with just enough water to surround the rocks but not too deep to cover them. Next, as nighttime temperatures fall, the water freezes into a quarter-inch thick sheet of ice. In the morning, as the rising sun begins to melt the ice sheet, it causes it to break into smaller floating panels. Finally, light winds - as light as 10mph in strength - gently blow these panels into the rocks and push them across the playa at a speed of only a few inches per second. Since the movement of the rocks is synchronized, even if someone was observing the phenomenon directly, they may not notice the rocks are moving.

In 2011, the research team, led by co-authors Jim Norris and Richard Norris, positioned their own sample blocks of limestone on the dry lakebed each fitted with a GPS unit to record movement (park authories wouldn't allow them use any native rocks). A high-resolution weather station was also set up to measure wind velocity. A magnet positioned beneath each sample rock triggered the GPS devices once the rocks began to move. Since all the special conditions had to be met in order for the rocks to move, the researchers were somewhat suprised when they returned two years later to see a pond of three inches of water covering the playa. It was a perfect set-up to study their hypothesis. Eventually ice formed on the pond's surface, and at the very end of 2013 it began to break up and move the rocks in the process. A camera recorded timelapse of each event.

"We documented five movement events in the two and a half months the pond existed and some involved hundreds of rocks," said Richard Norris, "So we have seen that even in Death Valley, famous for its heat, floating ice is a powerful force in rock motion."

Read the entire study online in the journal PLoS One.

Story on
Mystery of the Racing Rocks
Study on PLoS One.

This is so cool. Cameras attached to the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters (SRB) give an out-of-this-world view (literally!) of a launch from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The video is compiled from a couple different missions flown during the shuttle program's hey-day. All the audio comes from microphones mounted on the shuttle and was mixed and enhanced by the guys over at Skywalker Sound. If you want more, you can watch video of the SRBs' recovery at sea or enjoy various camera angles of several shuttle launches. What a tremendous ride!

Georges Cuvier: portrait by François-André Vincent.
Georges Cuvier: portrait by François-André Vincent.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
Today is the 245th anniversary of the birth of naturalist Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier born in 1769 in Montbéliard, a French-speaking (but not French ruled) region in the Jura Mountains. In 1795, Georges Cuvier (as he was known) went to Paris where, eventually he was appointed a professor of animal anatomy at the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle. Cuvier is considered one of the founders of comparative anatomy and vertebrate paleontology, and helped establish the idea of extinction as a scientific fact.

Additional reading at UCMP Berkeley
More info at Wikipedia

In honor of American geologist Dr. Richard Alley's recent election as the Foreign Member of the Royal Society, the National Science Foundation has posted this series of 15 short videos explaining the science behind climate change and starring Dr. Alley.

See video

Vaccine activities: A variety of activities about vaccinations await State Fair visitors at the Minnesota Department of Health's booth in the Education Building of the Minnesota State Fair.
Vaccine activities: A variety of activities about vaccinations await State Fair visitors at the Minnesota Department of Health's booth in the Education Building of the Minnesota State Fair.Courtesy Minnesota Department of Health
Think you can get away from Science Buzz by going to the Minnesota State Fair? Think again. You'll have three different opportunities to see Science Buzz exhibits if you visit the Fair through Labor Day.

At the Education Building, the Minnesota Department of Health will be presenting hands-on and digital activities about the importance of vaccinations. Those activities are available daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Visitors to the Eco Experience building can learn about new data and trends on climate change at a computer kiosk being presented by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Science Buzz. It is also open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Here's a link to those pages if you can't make it to the Fair.

Also, on Friday, Aug. 29, faculty from the University of Minnesota's Institute for Math and its Applications will be showing a number of hands-on math activities at the university's exhibit building, including the popular Traveling Salesman Problem game board. They will also be presenting from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. that day. Here's a link to the Buzz's online content on the Traveling Salesman Problem.