The Silurian Precursor World

❝ If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today? The authors summarize the likely geological fingerprint of the Anthropocene, and demonstrate that while clear, it will not differ greatly in many respects from other known events in the geological record. They propose tests that could plausibly distinguish an industrial cause from an otherwise naturally occurring climate event…

❝ One of the key questions in assessing the likelihood of finding such a civilization is an understanding of how often, given that life has arisen and that some species are intelligent, does an industrial civilization develop? Humans are the only example we know of, and our industrial civilization has lasted (so far) roughly 300 years (since, for example, the beginning of mass production methods). This is a small fraction of the time we have existed as a species, and a tiny fraction of the time that complex life has existed on the Earth’s land surface (∼400 million years ago, Ma). This short time period raises the obvious question as to whether this could have happened before. We term this the “Silurian Hypothesis”.

I love this stuff. The dialectic between science fiction and scientific inspiration is healthy and well.

Yes – more research declares a bit of caffeine is okey-dokey

❝ Many clinicians advise patients with atrial or ventricular arrhythmias to avoid caffeinated beverages, but recent research has shown that coffee and tea are safe and can reduce the frequency of arrhythmias…

Arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, cause the heart to beat too fast, slow or unevenly. While some arrhythmias may be harmless or even go unnoticed in patients, others can increase risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common heart rhythm disorder, causes the heart to beat rapidly and skip beats, and if left untreated, can cause strokes.

A single cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine and acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. Once in the body, caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a chemical that can facilitate AFib…

❝ “Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea may have long term anti-arrhythmic properties mediated by antioxidant effects and antagonism of adenosine,” Dr. Peter Kistler said. “In numerous population-based studies, patients who regularly consume coffee and tea at moderate levels have a lower lifetime risk of developing heart rhythm problems and possibly improved survival.”

One of those cultural questions I try to stay up-to-date with. Over the past 40 years, a bit of caffeine consumption seems to be staying well ahead of the abstinence crowd.

Nope. Ain’t humpback whales making these tunes…


Click to enlargeKit Kovacs/Norwegian Polar Institute

❝ Spring is the time of year when birds are singing throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Far to the north, beneath the ice, another lesser-known concert season in the natural world is just coming to an end.

A University of Washington study has published the largest set of recordings for bowhead whales, to discover that these marine mammals have a surprisingly diverse, constantly shifting vocal repertoire.

❝ “If humpback whale song is like classical music, bowheads are jazz,” said lead author Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “The sound is more freeform. And when we looked through four winters of acoustic data, not only were there never any song types repeated between years, but each season had a new set of songs…”

“We were hoping when we put the hydrophone out that we might hear a few sounds,” Stafford said of the earlier study. “When we heard, it was astonishing: Bowhead whales were singing loudly, 24 hours a day, from November until April. And they were singing many, many different songs.”

Click through to the complete article. I’ve been lucky enough to know a few folks working on research like this. A delight. A service to this planet and some of the species living here.

Silent Spring 2.0

❝ Pesticides don’t just kill pests. New research out of the Netherlands provides compelling evidence linking a widely used class of insecticides to population declines across 14 species of birds.

Those insecticides, called neonicotinoids, have been in the news lately due to the way they hurt bees and other pollinators…This new paper, published online Wednesday in Nature, gets at another angle of the story—the way these chemicals can indirectly affect other creatures in the ecosystem.

❝ Scientists from Radboud University in Nijmegen and the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology and Birdlife Netherlands (SOVON) compared long-term data sets for both farmland bird populations and chemical concentrations in surface water. They found that in areas where water contained high concentrations of imidacloprid—a common neonicotinoid pesticide—bird populations tended to decline by an average of 3.5 percent annually…

Pesticides and birds: If this story sounds familiar, it’s probably because Rachel Carson wrote about it back in 1962. Carson’s seminal Silent Spring was the first popular attempt to warn the world that pesticides were contributing to the “sudden silencing of the song of birds.”

RTFA. Please. Even the sound of a quarrelsome, Mogollon Raven is music to these old ears.

Amelia Earhart? Probably.

The fate of Amelia Earhart continues to captivate public and scientific attention. Several hypotheses, some more credible than others, have been advanced about what may have happened to her and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on their ill-fated attempt to fly around the world. One intriguing component of the Earhart mystery involves whether bones found on Nikumaroro Island in 1940 could be her remains, suggesting she died as a castaway on this remote island. This paper will subject this idea to scientific analysis to determine whether the evidence supports the conclusion that the bones belong to Earhart or whether she can be excluded.

The bones in question were found in 1940 when a working party brought to Nikumaroro for the Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme found and buried a human skull. Upon hearing of the discovery, the officer in charge of the settlement scheme, Gerald Gallagher, ordered a more thorough search of the area. The search resulted in additional bones, including a humerus, radius, tibia, fibula, and both femora. The bones were apparently complete, but they had experienced some taphonomic modification. Also found were part of a shoe, judged to have been a woman’s; a sextant box, designed to carry a Brandis Navy Surveying Sextant manufactured circa 1918; and a Benedictine bottle. There was suspicion at the time that the bones could be the remains of Amelia Earhart.

Very interesting read. Adventure history from another century. Even more interesting as forensic science advances.