Giant fossil seabird of England

<i>Dasornis emuinus</i>

Dasornis emuinus

Science Daily:

Described September 26 in the journal Palaeontology, the skull belongs to Dasornis emuinus, a bony-toothed bird, or pelagornithid, and was discovered in the London Clay, which lies under much of London, Essex and northern Kent in SE England. The occurrence of bony-toothed birds in these deposits has been known for a long time, but the new fossil is one the best skulls ever found, and preserves previously unknown details of the anatomy of these strange birds.

With a five metre wingspan, these huge birds were similar to albatross in their way of life. Albatross have the largest wingspan of any living bird, but that of Dasornis was over a meter and half greater. Despite these similarities, the latest research suggests that the closest living relatives of Dasornis and its fossil kin are ducks and geese.

“Imagine a bird like an ocean-going goose, almost the size of a small plane! By today’s standards these were pretty bizarre animals, but perhaps the strangest thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like projections along the cutting edges of the beak” explains Gerald Mayr, expert palaeornithologist at the German Senckenberg Research Institute and author of the report.

These were not true teeth but bony projections of the beak, functioning as teeth, probably to catch fish.

Skull of <i>Dasornis emuinus</i> with projected beak

Skull of Dasornis emuinus with projected beak

Birds no longer produce teeth: they have the genes to do so but teeth do not develop in the absence of bone. So Dasornis developed a functional substitute. The Dasornis’ tooth is like the panda’s thumb.

Journal reference:

  1. Mayr et al. A skull of the giant bony-toothed bird Dasornis (Aves: Pelagornithidae) from the Lower Eocene of the Isle of Sheppey. Palaeontology, 2008; 51 (5): 1107 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2008.00798.x
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Aerosteon riocoloradensis: a new dinosaur from Argentina

Flesh rendering of the predator Aerosteon with the body wall removed to show a reconstruction of the lungs (red) and air sacs (other colors) as they might have been in life.

Flesh rendering of the predator Aerosteon with the body wall removed to show a reconstruction of the lungs (red) and air sacs (other colors) as they might have been in life.

Greg Laden has the scoop on the new Argentine dinosaur that was featured on Daily Planet. It is called Aerosteon riocoloradensis.

Fossils of a newly discovered species of dinosaur — a 10-meter-long, elephant-weight predator — were discovered in 1996 along the banks of Argentina’s Rio Colorado, and are now being reported after a long period of careful study. This dinosaur dates to about 85 million years (which falls within the Cretaceous period).

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Aerosteon riocoloradensis is that it demonstrates the evolution of a bird-like respiratory system in an animal that is definitely not bird-like in most other ways. Indeed, the authors of this paper imply that this dinosaur’s respiratory system represents an early phase in the evolution of the bird’s respiratory system. This is a case of an adaptation arising in one context and later being used in an entirely different context.

Aerosteon riocoloradensis also represents a previously unknown group of South American dinosaurs, which may be ancestral to allosaurs.

Bora Zivkovic at A Blog Around the Clock also has an article: a new dinosaur with hollow bones.

I always get excited when Paul Sereno publishes a paper in PLoS ONE and today is one such day – his third paper in this journal within a span of less than a year (the first was the paper with detailed description of Nigersaurus and the second was the article on Green Sahara cemeteries). Today’s paper is also the second time PLoS ONE publishes a taxonomy paper, i.e., a monograph that describes a new species:

Evidence for Avian Intrathoracic Air Sacs in a New Predatory Dinosaur from Argentina:

Paul Serano, you’ll remember, is National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence.

United States: terrorist nation

After overturning the principle of habeus corpus the U.S. has gone further downhill: Secret detention, secret trials, secret torture: the American Way?

The debate over how terrorist suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

The policies set off bruising internal battles, pitting administration moderates against hard-liners, military lawyers against Pentagon chiefs and, most surprising, a handful of conservative lawyers at the Justice Department against the White House in the stunning mutiny of 2004. But under Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Bradbury, the Justice Department was wrenched back into line with the White House.

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.

But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Proceed along dotted line

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Earthquakes in New York?

There’s a long article on the chance of an earthquake hitting New York City: low but devastating, I gather. From the Gotham City Gazette:

A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University… concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.

…the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.

“The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”

Some buildings have been reinforced to withstand earthquakes. But is it enough? The Gazette article refers to an article by Columbia University’s Earth Institute: “Earthquakes may endanger New York…”
They supplied this diagram:

All known quakes, greater New York-Philadelphia area, 1677-2004, graded by magnitude (M). Peekskill, N.Y., near Indian Point nuclear power plant, is denoted as Pe.

All known quakes, greater New York-Philadelphia area, 1677-2004, graded by magnitude (M). Peekskill, N.Y., near Indian Point nuclear power plant, is denoted as Pe.

Hat tip to Ontario-geofish.

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