Friday, September 28, 2012

Theory on How T. Rex Tackled Triceratops for Dinner

Scientists Publish Theory of T. Rex Feeding Behaviour on Triceratops

It seems that most dinosaur films and television programmes feature a battle between meat-eating and plant-eating dinosaurs. Viewers can't get enough of these huge, extinct reptiles battling one another and now a team of researchers at the Museum of the Rockies (Montana, United States) have published a rather gory paper explaining how Tyrannosaurus Rex may have fed on Triceratops. The scientists postulate that this Tyrannosaur ripped the head off its victim so that it could feast on the large neck muscles that were in place immediately behind Triceratop's bony neck frill.

Denver Fowler at the Museum of the Rockies and his colleagues studied a total of eighteen Triceratops specimens from Montana's Hell Creek Formation, some of which showed the characteristic Tyrannosaurus bite marks. There are a number of Triceratops skulls in the fossil record that show signs of tooth marks and punctures made by the characteristic "D"shaped teeth of a Tyrannosaurid. In a paper presented at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, the team graphically illustrated how a dead Triceratops may have been decapitated by a feeding Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Pathology in Dinosaur Fossils

Signs of injuries and disease in fossils is known as pathology. Palaeontologists have studied the fossilised bones of both the plant-eating Triceratops and the meat-eating Tyrannosaurids and there is a lot evidence to support the theory that T. Rex attacked and fed upon this particular horned dinosaur. However, in this new study the researchers were interested in working out what the marks and scars on the bones of this particular horned dinosaur said about the way in which a Tyrannosaur may have fed upon a Triceratops carcase.

The Museum of the Rockies team were intrigued to discover that many of the puncture and pull marks were on the bony neck frill of the fossil specimens they studied. Triceratops had a very large skull, it was protected by three horns on its face, (the name Triceratops means "three horned face"). It had a short nose horn and two further, much larger horns over the eyes. These horns could grow to be more than a metre long in mature adults. Scientists have long speculated that the horns and frills of Ceratopsians performed many functions. They may have been brightly coloured, an aid to visual communication amongst herd members. The horns and frills may have also been used in intraspecific combats, for example, two Triceratops fighting together over mates or social status. These facial ornaments were also defensive structures, very useful when you share the same environment as thirteen metre long Tyrannosaurs with an ability to swallow up to seventy kilogrammes of meat in one mouthful.

Evidence to Suggest Feeding Behaviour

The skull of Triceratops was very heavy and in comparison to the rest of the body it did not have a lot of meat on it. The neck frill would not have offered a lot of nutrition, so why the bite and pull marks?

An analysis of the fossilised Triceratops skull material revealed deep, parallel groves on the neck frill, suggesting that a feeding Tyrannosaurus Rex may have used its immensely strong jaws and neck muscles to pull on the frill in order to reposition the carcase for feeding or indeed to move the corpse. Many predators today; after they have made a kill attempt to drag the corpse of their victim to a concealed place so that they can feast in peace without being disturbed by scavengers or worse still, a bigger predator coming along and chasing them away from their dinner. Leopards for example have been known to drag the body of a gazelle up into a tree so they can feed without being disturbed by lions. Perhaps T. Rex attempted to move their victims so that they could eat without the risk of being attacked by other Tyrannosaurs. However, the prospect of dragging a seven tonne "dead weight" any distance would have been quite daunting and it would have wasted a lot of energy, perhaps the pull marks indicate where the body was torn apart - a sort of how to eat a Triceratops - one chunk at a time scenario.

Attempting to Reposition Prey?

If T. Rex was attempting to reposition its prey then the scientists speculate that the bony neck frill would have prevented the carnivore from accessing the large muscles on the neck of Triceratops. The team have proposed that this nasty predator probably used its teeth and jaws to pull on the frill in an effort to get at the meat behind the frill.

The gruesome conclusion made by the palaeontologists is that the easiest way to get to the large neck muscles is to pull the head right away from the body. In this academic paper, it is postulated that T. Rex ripped the heads of its Triceratops victims.

Further evidence to support the "heads-ripped-off-Triceratops" theory was found by the scientists when they examined the joint that attaches the neck to the skull. This ball and socket joint, known as the occipital condyles showed signs of bite marks on the anterior surface. The scientists concluded that such marks could only have been made if the head had been removed from the body.

Speculating on How T. Rex Fed

The problem with this rather gruesome area of research is that we cannot rely on observations using extant animals (animals alive today) to support this theory. The Tyrannosaurus Rex versus Triceratops predator prey relationship involves a biped attacking a quadruped. As we humans (H. sapiens) are the only true biped amongst the Mammalia alive today finding evidence to support this theory in the natural world is very difficult. Wolves attack horned bison but observations of a wolf pack's behaviour suggests that they avoid attacking the head and neck region and prefer to try to bring down their quarry by attacking the hind legs. A wolf weighs fifty times less than a large bison, whereas an adult T. Rex and an adult Triceratops were much more evenly matched in terms of body mass. Scientists do not know whether Tyrannosaurs were solitary hunters or pack animals, if they were pack animals then this would suggest differences in hunting and feeding strategies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Drilling and Producing Crude Oil and Natural Gas

This article demonstrates how crude oil and natural gas wells are drilled.

One of the main questions is how do we find the traps where these natural resources are found? Years ago it was based on the ancient strategy called "luck". Producers would simply drill one well right at the side of another; there were no scientific methods, just simple guess work. By doing this the landscapes really suffered.

Today the good luck and guess work have been replaced with science and technology, the same technology and principles that are used for drilling in Alaska, Texas, and Oceans and even in the Middle East.

Suppose a geoscientist finds a possible trap, meaning that potentially there is either crude oil or natural gas in that location. This presents us with some common questions.

First, are there giant pools of crude oil and gas under the ground or do we get it from certain rock formations?

Secondly, how do we extract that natural resource from the earth and create energy out of it?

Once the geologist find a trap that could contain crude oil and gas a drilling rig is brought in.

What is a drilling rig and how does it work?

The drilling rig is a piece of equipment that is brought onto the rig for five or six or seven days which drill a hold about the size of a football and is capable of drilling down several thousand feet down into the earth's surface. Once the hole is drilled a variety of sensitive instruments called logging tools send electronic messages that provide a detailed record of the rock and fluid properties of the geologic formations.

A typical rotary drill rig goes about 5,000 feet down. Imagine taking 16 football fields and placing them end to end and turning them upright, that's about 5,000 feet.
The rigs process is very similar to drilling through a piece of wood, only the drill bit is about the size of the football we mentioned earlier. The drilling is performed by highly trained members of a drilling crew.

Once the rig has drilled through various rock formations, steel piping is placed in the ground, then a cement shield is placed around the pipe to protect any water table or aqua furs, the piper is then perforated a and fractured only at the crude oil and natural gas rock formation to allow the flow of these vapours and liquids to move up the well to the surface. If the rock formation contains enough crude oil and or natural gas the rotary drill rig will be replaced with a pumping unit. Now the purpose of this is to keep the crude oil and natural gas flowing. Crude oil is sent into storage tanks and natural vapours are sent into vapour pipelines.

Often times today we need a drill in areas that won't allow us to drill down straight vertically, but with some of the latest technologies we are now able to drill directionally, this is an excellent way, for example to drill under a park or a school's property, many pre-developed areas tend to be a great place for crude oils r natural gas so the directional drilling technology is a great way to retrieve the source.

So what is the cost?

The costs usually ranges from 350,000.00 to 1, 000, 00.00 and an offshore well can cost up to a billion dollars per well and there's still no guarantee it will even produce.

I'll now use Ohio, USA as a case study

In Ohio there is over 64, 00 crude oil and gas wells producing in 49 of Ohio's 88 counties, with more than 273, 00 well drilled.

Do all Ohio counties produce crude oil and natural vapours?

The answer is no! The potential geological formations that contain crude oil and gas simply do not exist throughout the state which is why technology plays such a key role in retrieving this vluable rescource.

Now back to a question asked at the beginning of this article -

Once we have drilled to our targeted rock formations, how do we get the crude oil and natural gas out?

Utilising scientific principles of movement the fluids, crude oil and vapours are lifted out of the ground to the surface using a variety of different pumping units. How do these units work? Well first of all kepp in midn that if a pump jack is not moving then it doesn't mean that a well is not producing. The pump is just turned on long enough to create a syphoning effect. Petroleum engineers, production supervisors or well tenders will typically determine how long each individual well should be turned off and on. Also, keep in mind that the motor on this pumping unit also need energy to work. This energy is either the well's own gas source or electricity or solar panels. If electric is used the pumping units may be switched on overnight during off-peak electric times.

Where does it go when it's out of the ground? The first place it will go into will be a separator, the separator separate the crude oil liquids from the gas vapours. the crude oil when then move onto a storage unit called a Tank Battery and the vapours will be transported through a number of Natural Gas Pipelines for distributions.

Why can't you always see these crude oil and gas wells? New technology allows us to have a very small environmental footprint. These wells are hidden by plants and other landscaping like and can be found in car parks or in back yards if schools, churches, cemeteries, parks, cornfields or even your own back yards and these wells can produce energy for decades.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tues, Sept 25, 8PM @ the Bell House, FREE! The Secret Science Club explores the heavyweights of the cosmos—supermassive black holes—with astrophysicist and author Caleb Scharf!

Black holes are mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath. Yet, as astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals, these chasms in space-time don't just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge energy beams and clouds of matter, profoundly shaping the universe around them.

Dr. Scharf takes a tour of the latest black-hole research, peers into the dark heart at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, and asks: “Would life on Earth even be possible without these celestial monsters?”

Caleb Scharf is director of the Astrobiology Center at Columbia University,  writes the “Life, Unbounded” blog for Scientific American, and is the author of the new book, Gravity’s Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos.

Before & After
--Groove to time-warping tunes
--Try our cosmic cocktail of the night, the Gamma Ray
--Hot off the presses! Snag a signed copy of Dr. Scharf’s superb new book, Gravity’s Engines

This spaced-out edition of the Secret Science Club meets Tuesday, September 25, 8 pm @ the Bell House, 149 7th St. (between 2nd and 3rd avenues) in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Subway: F or G to 4th Ave; R to 9th St.

Doors open at 7:30 pm. Please bring ID: 21+ 

No cover. Just bring your smart self!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Russian Scientists Begin Study of Mammoth Remains

"Mammoth of the Century" in Moscow for Study

The fossilised remains of a teenage Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) has begun to be examined by Moscow-based scientists after it was transported from the remote Siberian location where the fossilised carcase was discovered. The late Summer months of August and early September are when a number of Woolly Mammoth and other Ice Age fossils are found in the northernmost parts of Russia. The spring and summer rains coupled with the seasonally high temperatures permit parts of the permafrost to be thawed out or washed away by the erosion of river banks and this can expose the preserved remains of a number of long-dead prehistoric animals.

Some of the Woolly Mammoths have soft tissue preserved and with the publishing of the recent, controversial research into the half-life of DNA, talk inevitably turns to the possibility of obtaining genetic material from these extinct animals with the long-term aim of producing clones and resurrecting a species.

The Mammuthus genus (Mammoths) were members of the Elephantidae sub-family, taxonomically classified with extant elephants. They were highly successful herbivores that lived across northern latitudes (Asia, Europe and North America) as well as Africa. A number of species have been identified including the famous Woolly Mammoth (M. primigenius) and the larger species, associated with milder climates the Columbian Mammoth (M. columbi).

Northern Siberian Discovery

The latest Woolly Mammoth fossil to emerge from the permafrost of northern Siberia was found by a young boy called Yevgeny Salinder, whilst he was walking along the banks of the Yenisei river about six weeks ago. Mammoth fossils including tusks had been found in this area before, but it was not the sight of an over-sized, curved tusk that indicated to Yevgeny that he had found the remains of a Woolly Mammoth, but rather the smell the carcase gave off. As the long-dead animal's corpse is exposed to the air with the erosion of the matrix in which the fossil was buried, so the flesh begins to decompose once again. It was the smell of putrefying flesh that alerted eleven-year old Yevgeny that a Mammoth's body was lying nearby.

Exposed Hine Quarters of Ice Age Beast

The back quarters and the legs were the parts of the carcase first exposed, local officials were contacted and the International Mammoth Committee alerted so that an excavation could begin to remove the Woolly Mammoth. Scientists rushed out to the remote location and began the work of digging out the Mammoth remains. Alexei Tikhonov, of the St. Petersburg-based Zoological Museum, and an expert of Siberian Mammoths was one of the scientists dispatched to excavate the carcase. He has described this particular specimen as the best preserved and most complete Mammoth found in Russia for more than 100 years.

"Mammoth Discovery of the Century"

Nicknamed the "Mammoth of the Century", the specimen is that of a teenage Woolly Mammoth, a male that died around 30,000 years ago. Although the elephant's trunk has rotted away, scientists have found samples of fur intact and one 1.5 metre long tusk, along with the remains of an eye and a small, Mammoth ear. Mammoths had much smaller ear flaps than their modern elephant counterparts. Small ears would not have lost as much heat as a large ear flap and there was no need for large ears to help cool the animal down, temperatures in this part of the world during the Pleistocene Epoch when this animal lived, would have rarely climbed into double figures (Celsius).

Excavation Begins

With the aid of local volunteers the Mammoth fossil was carefully excavated out of its Siberian grave, the process taking more than a week to complete. Once the remains had been stabilised (kept at a constant, low temperature to preserve soft tissue), the fossil has been transported back to Moscow for detailed study. Parts of the specimen will also be examined by Russian palaeontologists in St. Petersburg.

Weighing over 1,000 kilogrammes; the carefully packed and preserved ancient elephant may provide researchers with Mammoth DNA. Viable genetic material could still be preserved deep in the large teeth of the animal or within the larger limb bones such as the femur. With a team of international scientists recently concluding that DNA might be able to survive for much longer than previously thought in the fossil record (based on evidence from New Zealand Moa fossils), there is a strong possibility that this 30,000 year old carcase might yield genetic material.

Russian scientists are keen to start work, although they will have to be properly protected and wear face masks to ensure exposure to ancient bacteria and other pathogens does not occur. The skeleton is virtually intact and the body cavity has not been punctured which may have permitted the gut and the other internal organs such as the heart to be preserved in tact.

Named after the Boy who Found the Fossil

Like many Woolly Mammoth fossil finds, this teenage Mammoth that was probably around sixteen years of age when it died, has been given a name as well as a formal scientific classification code. The Mammoth has been named Zhenya, a pet name used by the friends and family of Yevgeny, the boy who sniffed out the fossil discovery in the first place.