Dec
28
2013

Restoration of Haplocanthosaurus: a Late Jurassic sauropod whose remains are found in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
Restoration of Haplocanthosaurus: a Late Jurassic sauropod whose remains are found in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.Courtesy FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons
The partial remains of a somewhat rare sauropod dinosaur have been discovered in Old Snowmass, near Aspen, Colorado. Paleontologist John Foster of the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction said that fossils of a Haplocanthosaurus were found by college student Mike Gordon in 2005 on land owned by his mom and stepfather. If you remember, Snowmass was the site near Aspen where a large collection of mammoths, mastodons, and other Ice Age mammals were uncovered back in 2010. This latest discovery is about six miles from the other site but in a much, much older rock layer. Foster said the Lower Morrison Formation, from where Haplocanthosaurus remains were collected dates back to the Late Jurassic, about 155-152 million years ago.

It's a very exciting find because few specimens of Haplocanthosaurus exist. The first were also found in Colorado, in Garden Park near Canon City, by Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologists William H. Utterback and John Bell Hatcher in 1901. The type specimens (H. priscus and H. utterbacki) were described by Hatcher in 1903. The fossils were prepared under the direction of chief preparator, Arthur S. Coggeshall.

Mounted skeleton of Haplocanthosaurus delfsi: Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Mounted skeleton of Haplocanthosaurus delfsi: Cleveland Museum of Natural HistoryCourtesy ScottRobertAnselmo via Wikimedia Commons
Compared to its larger and heavier long-necked, small-headed cousins such as Apatosaurus and Diplodocus, the Haplocanthosaurus was a relatively small-sized sauropod dinosaur with a length of 35 to 40 feet and weighing maybe 14 tons. While most sauropods have hollow spaces in their backbones, a distinguishing characteristic of Haplocanthosaurus is the solidness of its vertebrae which Foster confirmed by doing a scan of the fossil bones at a local hospital in Grand Junction.

Haplocanthosaurus hindlimb: Science Museum of Minnesota
Haplocanthosaurus hindlimb: Science Museum of MinnesotaCourtesy Mark Ryan
The only mounted specimen of Haplocanthosaurus is the referred species (H. delphsi) on exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio. No skull of the sauropod has ever been found so the head is just a fabricated guess. Other post-cranial remains exist, including some here at the Science Museum of Minnesota that were collected in Wyoming, but in general fossils of the dinosaur are rare. Material from only 10 individuals are known.

So far the Old Snowmass site has provided some vertebrae, ribs and a pelvis. but the landowners have been very accommodating in allowing the museum access to the dig site, and Foster hopes to find more Haplocanthosaurus bones - maybe even some skull material - in the coming summer season.

SOURCES and LINKS
Aspen Times story
More Haplocanthosaurus info
Osteology of Haplocanthosaurus by John Bell Hatcher
Jurrassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and Their World by John Foster


A brief and nifty refresher video on plate tectonics and plate boundaries to help finish up the year.

Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere
Winter solstice in the Northern HemisphereCourtesy Mark Ryan
The December solstice is upon us once again. That's when - due to the tilt of the Earth's axis in relation to to the plane of its orbit - the apparent path of the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky and begins its journey back the other way. It marks the Northern Hemisphere's longest night of the year (and shortest day) and the Southern Hemiphere's longest day. (and shortest night). This year - for all of us lucky enough to be living in the Central Standard Timezone, the turnaround moment happens at 11:11AM CST. The exact timing could possibly be significant. Or not.

Anyway, you can learn everything you want to know about the December solstice at Earthsky.org.

Well, it seems someplace has beat Minnesota's Record of -60 degrees Fahrenheit set on February 2nd, 1996. Admittedly that place is Antarctica. Tuesday this week it was announced that a satellite detected a temperature of -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit on the continent of Antarctica. Just to give you an idea of how cold that is, Dry Ice is -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that Dry Ice might naturally form at the SOUTH POLE!

Dec
10
2013

Sheffield Site
Sheffield SiteCourtesy The Science Museum of Minnesota
Join us on December 14th, from 12-4pm, at the Science Museum of Minnesota, to talk to the KAYSC Heritage Crew and the Archaeology staff in the Archaeology Lab! Get a behind the scenes look at the artifacts from the Sheffield Site, an Oneota Site along the St Croix River! Learn about Minnesota Archaeology, and the research the Archaeology Department has been working on with the Heritage Crew! Dr Ed Fleming will be available to talk to the public about the Sheffield Site and his other projects at the Science Museum of Minnesota!

The other labs on Level 3 will be open as well! Visit the paleontology lab, ethnobotany lab, and biology labs! Visit with the other scientists who work hard to preserve the collections in the museum, and learn about their research too!

Dec
10
2013

Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).
Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).Courtesy Jesus Martinez
In an interesting match-up between alternative energy sources and wildlife protection, wind energy appears to have come out the winner.

The Obama administration and the Interior Department last week decided it will waive penalties for up to three decades to wind energy farms that kill bald eagles in the generation of electrical power. The birds are killed when flying into the path of spinning wind turbine blades. Eagles in flight are especially susceptible to turbine blades as they're attention is often focused on the ground looking for prey rather than looking forward to see obstacles.

The new rule will give legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds. If they end up killing more birds than estimated at the start of the project, additional safeguards for the birds would then kick in. Numbers of eagle kills would be reviewed every five years. Wind power companies would have to document eagle deaths caused by their blades, but that information would not be made public.

Proponents of the plan say it will free up companies to look into expanding wind farms and providing "cleaner" electrical power. Currently there are no protections against eagle kills, which might be limiting building new wind farms. Just last month a company was prosecuted for eagle killings at two wind farms in Wyoming.

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws. Since 2008, official numbers peg eagle deaths due to wind turbine blades at 67. But that figure does not include eagle kills from the Altamont Pass in California, where a large wind farm is believed to kill about 60 eagles a year. Wind turbines can be massive, reaching up to 30 stories tall. Tips of the turbine blades can be spinning at speeds of 170 miles per hour on extremely windy days.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with the new regulation as it will allow it to more closely monitor the relationship between eagles and wind farms.

So what do you think? Is the price for increased "clean" electricity worth the cost of more eagle deaths? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Dec
09
2013

Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.
Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.Courtesy National Portrait Gallery
Last month, on November 22nd, while many people in the country were observing the 50th anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's assassination by shots fired from the Texas School Book Depository, there was another significant event happening that day involving Texas schoolbooks. That same Friday, despite objections and obstructionist tactics by creationists, the Texas Board of Education approved several public school science textbooks that included full coverage of evolution and climate change. The vote came late in the day and although the creationist faction did manage to make the adoption of two biology books contingent on a committee ruling regarding some alleged "flaws" in the text, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a watchdog group instrumental in countering the irrational creationist attacks, expects the passage to stand.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of today’s vote, which is a huge win for science education and public school students in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, TFN's president. “Four years ago this board passed controversial curriculum standards some members hoped would force textbooks to water down instruction on evolution and climate change. But that strategy has failed because publishers refused to lie to students and parents demanded that their children get a 21st-century education based on established, mainstream science.”

SOURCES
Dallas Morning News story
Evolution is True article

Dec
06
2013

Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?
Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?Courtesy Mark Ryan
A new and troubling paper from the Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts predicts possible and somewhat grim outcomes for some of Earth's natural systems from climate change that could rival the extinction event of the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago.

The abrupt impact could be coming faster than previously expected and would negatively affect human and physical climate systems as well. The document warns that the abruptness of the changes could be unanticipated and could find us unprepared to deal with them

Records of past climate preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediments show that the atmosphere contains higher levels of carbon dioxide than it has in a very long time. Carbon emissions from human activity continue to add to this rising concentration. Other activities including deforestation and resource extraction place additional environmental pressures on our climate and other natural systems.

At the end of the Cretaceous, all species of non-avian dinosaurs, along with the megafauna of flying and swimming reptiles were wiped off the face of the Earth. Many dinosaur species showed signs of decline even before the Chicxlub asteroid delivered the final kibosh on their existence.

Dr. James W.C. White, a professor of Geological Sciences and of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder chaired the committee which included more than a dozen earth scientists and ocean researchers from universities in both Canada and the United States, and from the National Academy of Science.

A prepublication copy of the entire 201-page paper is available to read without charge on the National Academies Press page. You can also download it for free although it was a little tricky getting it to my computer.

SOURCE
MinnPost story

Foggy day

by mdr on Dec. 03rd, 2013

It was foggy here in southern Minnesota today but nothing like the fog that shrouded the Grand Canyon on Sunday. The time-lapse video was made by photographer Derek von Briesen and Brian Klimowski, chief meteorologist of Flagstaff's National Weather Service office.

Dec
02
2013

Scott Anfinson
Scott AnfinsonCourtesy Scott Anfinson
Hey there! Do you know that we have a State Archaeologist here in Minnesota? Meet Scott Anfinson the 3rd State Archaeologist of Minnesota. Scott came to visit us and while talking to him, we’ve learned some interesting things about the burial mounds in Minnesota. We’ve learned about the Lidars (shots of lasers that are use to scan the ground from above, used to detect mounds) that are used to detect the mounds and the importance of his job of protecting them. We’ve interviewed him with some questions and will like to share some of his answers to you about his job experiences.

What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
When I was 8 years old, I received a book for Christmas, that was all about dinosaurs. It showed mainly these guys who were digging in China in the Gobi Desert… That sparked my interest in digging and archaeology… However, at that time I didn’t know that paleontology and archaeology are different.

What is exactly a State Archaeologist? What is the significance of the job you do?
One of the jobs that I do for the state is, I’m in charge of all ancient burials that were made 100 or 12,000 years ago in Minnesota...
Some people would probably say to me “Why do we need an state archaeologist?.
First of all, I’ll say to them is, “Well who do you want to be in charge of all those 3,000 pioneer cemeteries and 12,000 Indian burial mounds? Who would be in charge if they asked,
“Can I disturb them?”, “Where are they?”
“What are the disturbance?”. I can help them find a solution.
I also help state agencies... It’s against the law to disturb any archaeological site on public property. So they need my help to figure out how to build their road, their trail, or their new visitor center by reducing the harm to the site.

How long have you’ve been the state archaeologist?
Started in 2006. So it’s been 7 years now.

What places you excavated?
I’ve never done archaeology in another country. I do almost all of my archeology right in the Midwest.

Have you ever misidentified anything or changed your mind about something you found?
Happens all the time... When you create a hypothesis, basically it is saying is “I think this what happened”. But you can never prove for sure if that’s what exactly what happened, but you can prove something that didn’t happen... What you do is, you can start eliminating the possibilities until you are left with possibly what probably caused it… Science proves the truth, it is just getting closer to some kind of truth, and that truth can change. For an example, one time when I was working on a site in western Minnesota and I found some burnt bones, which looked very much like hand bones from a human. I thought I had found a cremation burial, but then I noticed that the bone that I found must be a very big guy. I went over to the Bell Museum in the University of Minnesota and took the bones with me to look at them a little more carefully. And they were are actually a paw of a black bear… So I was wrong on my first conclusion.

As you can see the job of the an State Archaeologist is very important to the state. Meeting him, was a great opportunity because just learning what he does, really draws you closer to the importance of archaeology. It’s more than digging, it’s science!