Stories tagged australia

Stromatolites at Shark Bay: the living fossils are featured in NOVA's "Australia: First 4 Billion Years".
Stromatolites at Shark Bay: the living fossils are featured in NOVA's "Australia: First 4 Billion Years".Courtesy Paul J. Morris
NOVA's excellent 4-part documentary series "Australia: First 4 Billion Years" is scheduled to re-broadcast on July 16th, 23rd, 30th and August 6th. Check your local PBS schedule for times. But if the dates don't work for you, the entire series is (or at least was when I watched it) on YouTube. Here are the links:

Part 1: Awakening
Part 2: Life Explodes
Part 3: Monsters
Part 4: Strange Creatures

The series is beautifully put together with gorgeous high definition video shot in locations all over Australia. The host, biologist Richard Smith, explains the science in a thoughtful and comprehensible manner while introducing viewers to many of the continent's stunning topographical features, and the strange and wonderful lifeforms - both past and present - found there. It's well worth your time.


This article describes the results of a study conducted by the Australian Government, which says some Australians “may be raising their risk of skin cancer by avoiding sunscreen due to unfounded fears over nanoparticles.” The article went on to say that one third of the people surveyed had heard or read about the possible risks of nanoparticles, and that 13% of these people would be less likely to use sunscreen. At first, this seemed like a very interesting finding – people would rank nanoparticles higher than skin cancer on their personal risk meters! But as I examined the article a little more, I realized I have a few issues with the way it presented the results. A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.
A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.Courtesy Friends of the Earth Australia

First, the article makes it sound as if survey-takers were faced with the question, “would you rather risk getting skin cancer or use a sunscreen with nanoparticles in it?” In actuality, they were simply asked if they would be less likely to use a nanoparticle-based sunscreen, given the risks they’d heard about. I realize it is implied that if you don’t use sunscreen your chances of getting skin cancer increase, but when taking a survey, you’re probably just answering the question at hand: Would you be less likely to use a product that you’ve heard could by risky. These answers are also coming from a survey that repeatedly mentions the “possible risks of using sunscreen with nanoparticles” in various questions. It seems to me that hula hooping could start to sound risky by the end of a survey like that. “Have you heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping? If you have heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping, do the stories make you any less likely to hula hoop in general? Agree or Disagree: 1.) Hula hooping is risky to my health. 2.) Hula hooping is more risky to my health than not hula hooping 3.) I am scared to hula-hoop.” Ok, I exaggerate a little, but the way a survey is presented has an effect on the answers people provide.

I get that they’re trying to highlight the fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous, and that’s an interesting finding- not because they would stop using sunscreen, but because the current weight of evidence suggests that the nanoparticles in sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin - they’re harmless to humans. Which brings me to my point that perhaps a more telling result of the study is the high number of people who said they didn’t know if nanoparticle-based sunscreens are risky, and needed more information before deciding whether to use them. The fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous when the current scientific evidence suggests otherwise, supports the idea that people just don’t know enough about nanoparticle-based products.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all nanoparticle-based products are safe, across the board. I’m also not trying to downplay people’s concerns about this relatively new technology. In fact, I think a healthy dose of caution is a good thing when it comes to new technologies. I just think that fear comes from not knowing, and people’s concerns could be alleviated if they had more information. What is concerning is that the information isn’t exactly available. There are no regulations on nano products (though the FDA appears to be working on it), companies are not required to label their products as containing nanoparticles, and there are no standards in defining what a nano product is. What I am suggesting is that maybe we should be demanding that information from the likes of industries, governments, policy makers, etc, instead of focusing on the few that perceive nanoparticles as risky.

The point of the study was to figure out the public’s perception of sunscreens that contain nanoparticles, and I think it did. It showed that the public doesn’t know enough about it to make any real/informed decisions.

What’s your take? How do you feel about nanoparticles being used in products you rely on every day? What do you think about regulating this technology? Creating standards for it? Do you think these regulations and standards would stifle scientific progress, or protect our health? What do you think about hula hooping?

A group of scientists from Australia and England have discovered what could be the oldest known record of life on Earth. The new micro-fossils, traces of ancient single-celled organisms, were discovered in 3.4 billion year old sandstone in Western Australia. The study appears in the publication Nature Geoscience. If the research stands up to scrutiny, it could make them the oldest known fossils of life on Earth. This wouldn't set well with another team of scientists who have been making the same claim, although the validity of their find has been questioned.

New York Times story


Here's what we know...: But what happened before?
Here's what we know...: But what happened before?Courtesy JGordon
Check this story out, Buzz-gumshoes: An Australian man has been sent to the hospital after a vicious wombat attack.

Interesting. Very interesting, eh, Buzzketeers? It sounds like our kind of story.

Here are the facts… as they have been reported so far:
-Bruce Kringle, 60, of Flowerdale, Australia, was stepping out of his home when he “felt something attack his leg.”
-The attacking party was a wombat, a badger-like marsupial.
-The wombat managed to knock Mr. Kringle off of his feet, and then climbed onto his chest and proceeded to savage the man for 20 or so minutes.
-An axe was within arm’s reach, and Mr. Kringle used it to kill the wombat.
-Mr. Kringle was then admitted to hospital with puncture wounds in his arms and legs.
-Wombats are generally docile creatures. This individual’s aggression might be explained by a irritating case of the mange.

I don’t know about y’all, but when I add all that up, I only produce one answer: WTF! (That stands for “Wombat Tale: False!”)

Here are some additional questions and considerations we must account for, before this case can be closed:
-Who is “Bruce Kringle”? Could he be the same person as Branson Kringle, the Special Forces soldier who came out of retirement to rescue a group of kidnapped missionaries in Myanmar, only to disappear once again when the mission was complete?
-Wombats can be several feet long, and weigh nearly 80 pounds, and they can achieve speeds of nearly 25 miles per hour. Without knowing the creature’s rate of acceleration, I can’t determine how much force it could have struck Mr. Kringle with (force=mass x acceleration), but it seems reasonable that the marsupial could have mustered enough force to knock the man over… except
-If Mr. Kringle “felt an attack” at his leg as soon as he stepped outside. This seems to imply that he was not immediately rammed by the attacking wombat. So… what? He was bitten, and then allowed the creature to back up and charge? While he was still so near to his front door? Hmm. How did Kringle end up on his back?
-Do something for me, Buzzketeers: tap your pointer fingers against each other. Continue to tap them for one whole minute. It feels like an awfully long time, doesn’t it? Now imagine that, instead of tapping your fingers for that minute, you were being attacked by something that looks like a wolf-sized hamster. And then multiply that length of time by twenty. That’s a long time to be attacked by a wolf-sized hamster (or by a wombat.)
-At what point did the axe appear within arm’s reach?
-Wombats, it seems, are actually not known to be particularly docile, especially when defending their territory from intruders.
-Mr. Kringle was, in fact, stepping out of his “caravan,” which is Australian for “RV.” He was living in the vehicle while his home was being rebuilt (it was destroyed in last year’s Black Saturday bush fires.)

Despite being an otherwise impeccably reliable newspaper, I feel like the Telegraph is withholding information from us.

It seems that Bruce may have been forced to temporarily move his caravan into wombat territory… but what was it about that day that made the wombat finally snap? How did Bruce get knocked over? And who gave Bruce the axe… only after allowing him to be attacked for twenty finger-tapping minutes?

I think someone wanted that wombat dead, and they manipulated trained-killer Bruce (aka, Branson) Kringle into pulling the trigger for them! The only remaining question is “who?”

BAM! How’s that for journalism?

Evidence of tyrannosaurs found down under: Typical end-of-the-Cretaceous massive Tyrannosaurus rex on display at Albuquerque's  New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. A smaller ancestor of the beast has been unearthed in Australia.
Evidence of tyrannosaurs found down under: Typical end-of-the-Cretaceous massive Tyrannosaurus rex on display at Albuquerque's New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. A smaller ancestor of the beast has been unearthed in Australia.Courtesy Mark Ryan
A hip bone discovered in Australia is the first fossil evidence that tryannosaurs lived in the southern hemisphere. The fossil was discovered in Dinosaur Cove, in Victoria by scientists from Great Britain. Only 9 feet long and weighing less than two hundred pounds, the southern tyrannosaur was a mere shadow of its 5 ton, 36 foot long descendant, Tryrannosaurus rex, which ruled the northern landscape 65 million years ago near the end of the Cretaceous Period. The Australian dinosaur lived some 45 million years earlier, at a time when the continents were still in the process of splitting apart from a supercontinent. Read more here.

A 12-mile long iceberg which broke off from Antarctica 10 years ago is now closer to Australia than any iceberg has gotten to the continent in over a century. The mega-iceberg is now just a third of its original size and continues to break up into pieces, posing a shipping hazard in the south Pacific. Here is more information, and photos, on the huge berg.


It's smiling!: But wait until it gets bitten in half.
It's smiling!: But wait until it gets bitten in half.Courtesy Pterantula
Not much to say here other than… Holy Smokes! Check his out: a huge shark bitten in half by an even huger shark!

Shark fishermen in Queensland Australia pulled a ten-foot great white from a baited drum line to discover that the shark had been nearly bitten in half by an even bigger shark. Again, take a look. And the 10-footer was still alive when they pulled it into the boat. (Yowza.)

The think that the larger shark was also a great white, and that it might be as large as 20 feet long. A shark that size weighs about 4,400 pounds. There’s been some debate regarding the maximum size of a great white, but 20 feet is probably about as large as they can get. (In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were reports of sharks caught that measured over 30 feet, but reexamination indicated that they were probably significantly shorter.) At any rate, the shark in Jaws (I think its name was Eustace) was supposed to be 25 feet long, so 20 feet is nothing to sneeze at. Unless huge sharks make you sneeze.

Happy shark attack Tuesday!

A huge dust storm this week inundated Sydney, Australia with a thick blanket of red dust, disrupting air and automobile travel, and shutting down construction projects across the city. Residents there are wary to venture outside to work as there is also widespread concern about respiratory illness from the eerie, sun-blotting red dust that still lingers in the air. Authorities estimate it will cost the country tens of millions of dollars in lost production.

Much of Australia has been suffering a severe drought, especially in the New South Wales region (NSW) where the capital city of Sydney is located. Another concern is the loss of topsoil. As it moved in from the south, the storm stripped millions of tons of topsoil from farmlands in the region. Watch this video to get a good idea of what’s up down under.

Three new Australian dinosaurs: Top: Australovenator wintonensis; middle: Wintonotitan wattsi: bottom: Diamantinasaurus matildae
Three new Australian dinosaurs: Top: Australovenator wintonensis; middle: Wintonotitan wattsi: bottom: Diamantinasaurus matildaeCourtesy T. Tischler, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History
Three new dinosaur species from the mid-Cretaceous period have been unearthed in Queensland, Australia. Australovenator wintonensis was a relatively small but deadly 1100 pound theropod that hunted its prey 98 million years ago. Remains of two new sauropods species were also found. Wintonotitan wattsi was a giraffe-like titanosaurus, while Diamantinasaurus matildae ( a stockier, more hippo-like plant-eater. Australia has given up very few dinosaur fossils because the continent has remained relatively flat and undisturbed by the tectonic forces that churn up fossil-containing layers on other continents. Paleontologists had to bulldoze off more than a yard of overburden to get to the fossil layer. Australovenator is nicknamed "Banjo" after poet A.B. "Banjo" Paterson who wrote Australia's unofficial anthem, "Waltzing Matilda" on a nearby sheep ranch in the late 19th century. The new research appears in the online journal PLoS ONE but you can also read more here.

Here's the harrowing tale of a zoo orangutan in Australia who outsmarts the zoo's technology to escape from her enclosure, at least for a little while.