Dinosaurs might have escaped total extinction had doomsday asteroid struck seconds earlier, later

http://www.torontosun.com/2017/05/15/dinosaurs-might-have-escaped-total-extinction-had-doomsday-asteroid-struck-seconds-earlier-later MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017 12:19 PM EDT | UPDATED: MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017 12:53 PM EDT


A new BBC Two documentary suggests dinosaurs might have escaped extinction if a doomsday asteroid had struck 30 seconds earlier or later.

Instead, it’s believed the massive, 15 km-wide rock smashed into shallow water near the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago, ejecting mass amounts of sulfur into Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is where we get to the great irony of the story,” Ben Garrod, who presents The Day The Dinosaurs Died, told the BBC.

“In the end it wasn’t the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct. It was where the impact happened.”

Researchers contend the ensuing blast caused an extended global winter that left dinosaurs with nothing to sustain themselves.


However, had the giant asteroid struck moments earlier or later it might have splashed into deeper waters in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

Such an open water impact could have resulted in less vaporized particles being ejected into the air, thereby allowing more sunlight to reach Earth’s surface.

Scientists believe the impact that formed Mexico’s Chicxulub Crater resulted in an explosion equal to 10 billion Hiroshima A-bombs, according to the report.

The documentary also speculates that the original impact caused immediate death for dinosaurs roaming as far away as New Jersey.


Mass Die-Off of Whales in Atlantic Is Being Investigated


Workers inspecting a dead humpback whale that washed up on Rockaway Beach in Queens this month.CreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

Humpback whales have been dying in extraordinary numbers along the Eastern Seaboard since the beginning of last year. Marine biologists have a term for it — an “unusual mortality event” — but they have no firm idea why it is happening.

Forty-one whales have died in the past 15 months along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Maine. In a news conference on Thursday, officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said that they had not identified the underlying reason for the mass death, but that 10 of the whales are known to have been killed by collisions with ships.

The agency is starting a broad inquiry into the deaths.

These whales “have evidence of blunt force trauma, or large propeller cuts,” said Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the agency’s Office of Protected Resources. These collisions with ships were “acute events,” Dr. Fauquier said, and were being treated as the “proximate cause of death.”

Dr. Fauquier said that the number of whale strandings was “alarming,” and that she hoped the investigation might give a sense of what kind of threat this presents to this population of humpback whales and those around the world.

COn average, eight humpback whales are stranded each year from Maine to Virginia, and fewer than two are hit by ships, according to data from NOAA.

An unusual mortality event is a specific designation under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and is defined as “a stranding that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

Whale or other marine mammal die-offs are often poorly understood by scientists, and this case is no exception. Officials from NOAA Fisheries could not explain why the animals were coming into greater contact with vessels, or if there were any human-caused or climate-related disturbances that had changed their behavior.

Gregory Silber, marine resources manager in the agency’s Office of Protected Resources, said that there had not been any increase in ship traffic in the region, and that the whales might be following their prey — they mostly eat krill and small fish — to areas where there could be more shipping.

Ten whales other than those killed by ships have been examined, but officials have not yet determined the cause of death. There is no indication that they were killed by disease.

Humpback whales — which can be as long as 60 feet, weigh as much as 40 tons and can live for 50 years — are found in all of the world’s oceans. There are 14 distinct population segments — groups that follow certain migration and breeding patterns — of humpback whales, some of which are classified as endangered or threatened. The population along the Atlantic coast, which winters in the Caribbean and summers in the North Atlantic or Arctic regions, is not now considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Around the world, there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 humpback whales, about a third of its original population. The Atlantic population is around 10,000.

Scientists have suggested that some whale deaths could be a result of marine noise, often a result of military activity, offshore drilling or exploration, which can disorient the animals and send them in the wrong direction, possibly toward beaches where they get stuck instead of into the deeper ocean. Mr. Silber, the NOAA manager, said he was not aware of a connection between ocean noise and these strandings.

A recent study has shown that dolphins, when escaping predators or the source of marine noise, might shoot up from a dive more quickly than they otherwise would, switching from slow, deliberate strokes to faster, longer ones, which can cause them to use double the energy they normally do, and exhaust them.

The last major mass casualty event for marine mammals in this part of the world took place from 2013 to 2015, when a resurgence of the morbillivirus killed thousands of bottlenose dolphins on the Eastern Seaboard.

Among humpback whales, there was an unusual mortality event in 2006, following others in 2005, which involved other large whales, and 2003, which was primarily humpback whales. In each investigation, the cause was undetermined, officials said.

NOAA officials said members of the public looking to help could report stranded or dead floating whales to numbers listed on their website.

Resurrecting extinct species might come at a terrible cost


February 27, 2017
Resurrecting extinct species might come at a terrible cost
A Lord Howe Island woodhen Gallirallus sylvestris. Credit: Toby Hudson

Bringing back extinct species could lead to biodiversity loss rather than gain, according to work featuring University of Queensland researchers.

UQ scientist Professor Hugh Possingham said the research suggested further stretching already-strained budgets to cover the costs of de-extinction could endanger extant species (species still in existence).

“If the risk of failure and the costs associated with establishing viable populations could also be calculated, estimates of potential net losses or missed opportunities would probably be considerably higher,” Professor Possingham said.

“De-extinction could be useful for inspiring new science and could be beneficial for conservation if we ensure it doesn’t reduce existing conservation resources.

“However, in general it is best if we focus on the many species that need our help now.”

“Given the considerable potential for missed opportunity, and risks inherent in assuming a resurrected species would fulfil its role as an ecosystem engineer or flagship species, it is unlikely that de-extinction could be justified on grounds of biodiversity conservation.”

The study was led by Dr Joseph Bennett, formerly of the ARC Centre for Environmental Decisions at UQ and now of Carleton University, Canada.

It analysed the number of species governments in New Zealand and New South Wales could afford to conserve.

“We based cost estimates on recently extinct species and similar extant species,” Dr Bennett said.

The Lord Howe pigeon, eastern bettong, bush moa and Waitomo frog were among the extinct species included in calculations.

The researchers found reintroducing some recently extinct species to their old habitats might improve biodiversity locally, but government-funded conservation for 11 focal in New Zealand would sacrifice conservation for nearly three times as many (31) extant species.

External funding for conservation of the five focal extinct NSW species could instead be used to conserve more than eight times as many (42) extant species.

Although the technology for de-extinction is still some way off, the research found that careful thought would be required about what to reintroduce, and where.

Professor Possingham is Chief Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation organisation, and a scientist with UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, The Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science at UQ, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-resurrecting-extinct-species-terrible.html#jCp

North America’s skeleton crew of megafauna

Proc.Royal Soc.B:Biological Sciences  January 11 2017
What North America’s skeleton crew of megafauna tells us about community disassembly
Matt Davis
Functional trait diversity is increasingly used to model future changes in community structure despite a poor understanding of community disassembly’s effects on functional diversity. By tracking the functional diversity of the North American large mammal fauna through the End-Pleistocene megafaunal extinction and up to the present, I show that contrary to expectations, functionally unique species are no more likely to go extinct than functionally redundant species. This makes total functional richness loss no worse than expected given similar taxonomic richness declines. However, where current species sit in functional space relative to pre-anthropogenic baselines is not random and likely explains ecosystem functional changes better than total functional richness declines. Prehistoric extinctions have left many extant species functionally isolated and future extinctions will cause even more rapid drops in functional richness.

How to Avoid Stephen Hawking’s Dark Prediction for Humanity


Stephen Hawking thinks humanity has only 1,000 years left of survival on Earth and that our species needs to colonize other planets.

The famed physicist made the statement in a speech at Oxford University Union, in which he promoted the goal of searching for and colonizing Earth-like exoplanets. Developing the technology to allow humans to travel to and live on faraway alien worlds is a challenge, to say the least. But is Hawking right that humanity has only 1,000 years to figure it out?

The dangers Hawking cited — from climate change, to nuclear weapons, to genetically engineered viruses — could indeed pose existential threats to our species, experts say, but predicting a millennium into the future is a murky business.

“While I respect Stephen Hawking enormously, speculating on how long Homo sapiens will survive before extinction is foolish,” said John Sterman, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. “Whether we survive and thrive or descend into chaos is not something to predict or lay odds on, but a choice to be made.” [Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth]

If climate change continues apace, it will likely lead to a great deal of friction for the human species.

“There may be incredible amounts of food and water stress in some regions; combined with sea-level rise, this will lead to massive numbers of environmental refugees — enough to make the Syrian diaspora seem simple to absorb,” said Shawn Marshall, a professor of geography and a climate change researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Humanity is surviving now only by depleting the planet’s natural resources and poisoning its environment, Sterman told Live Science. The nonprofit Global Footprint Network estimates that humanity uses up the resources of 1.5 Earths each year, essentially overdrawing from the planet’s natural bank account. The problems of sustainability can’t wait 1,000 years, Sterman said.

“Whether we can prevent damaging climate change, and the broader issue of whether we can learn to live within the limits of our finite world, will likely be determined this century,” he said.

Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California, Merced and founder of the outreach organization Climate Feedback, echoed the call to make sustainable decisions now.

“It is important to remind [people] that one cannot predict whether a catastrophic event will wipe out humans within the next thousand years,” Vincent told Live Science. “What Hawking is doing here is speculating on the risk that this will happen, and he estimates that the probability of extinction is high. While I agree that this is possible, I would like to emphasize that this primarily depends on how we manage to prevent such catastrophic outcome as a society.” [7 Iconic Animals Humans Are Driving to Extinction]

This doesn’t mean humans will necessarily go extinct if we make poor choices. Climate-wise, the planet is currently about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than preindustrial averages, Marshall said. (The past year has set multiple modern heat records.)

In comparison, temperatures during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were about 10 degrees C (18 F) warmer than preindustrial averages, or about 25 degrees C (45 F) compared with today’s 16 degrees C (29 F), Marshall said. Yet life was quite abundant at that time, he told Live Science.

“It would be a habitable but rather different world,” he said. “We’ll run out of fossil fuels before we evaporate the oceans away.”

So humans probably won’t manage to actually bake themselves in an oven made of greenhouse gases, though tropical areas may become too hot for habitation, Vincent said. The real question is whether humans would be able to handle the upheaval that climate change would bring as coastlines vanish, diseases spread and weather patterns change.

“On its own, I don’t see how climate change would lead to human extinction,” Marshall said. “It would have to be through the social unrest triggering nuclear warfare, or some other societal implosion as a result of the environmental degradation.”

Already, there are warning signs beyond warming temperatures. About half of global wildlife has been wiped out over the past 50 years, Vincent said. The situation is serious enough that many scientists believe the planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction.

“Anyone who thinks we can solve these problems by colonizing other worlds has been watching too much ‘Star Trek,'” Sterman said. “We must learn to live sustainably here, on the one planet we have, and there is no time to lose.”

Original article on Live Science.

We have 20 years — at the very most — to prevent mass extinction


Updated 7:04 PM ET, Thu October 27, 2016

(CNN)The Earth’s next mass extinction — the first caused by people — is on the horizon. And the consequences are almost unthinkably dire: Three-quarters of species could disappear.

This has happened only five times in the planet’s history — including the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs.
What’s different now is that humans are causing these changes.
How? Well, we’re burning fossil fuels and consequently heating up the planet; turning massive chunks of land into farms; spreading invasive species and diseases around the world; boosting our own numbers and consuming more and more resources; and causing all sorts of trouble for the oceans, from overfishing to filling them up with plastic. (Did you know researchers expect the ocean to beequal parts fish and plastic, by weight, as soon as 2050?)
This subject certainly is alarming, especially when you consider the global picture.
Another frightening data point in this trend toward extinction emerged on Thursday in a report from the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental advocacy group. The report claims 58% declines in certain vertebrate animal populations since 1970 and says that if trends continue, then two-thirds of all of these individual birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals will be gone by 2020.
Vaquita porpoise nearing extinction

Vaquita porpoise nearing extinction 01:53
Some scientists see those numbers as potentially misleading. Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke chair of conservation ecology at Duke University, told me that 58% is “a fairly silly kind of number to report because it mixes what’s going on in the ocean with what’s going on in the land.” He continued, “It mixes studies of bird populations in Europe with mammal populations in Africa. It has very few data points in South America. The idea that you in the media can only handle a single number to summarize the state of the planet — you should be insulted by that.”
I agree with Pimm that these numbers can be misleading, but that’s only if people misunderstand them. I also spoke with Anthony Barnosky, executive director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve at Stanford University. He told me the most important thing to remember is that this report is limited in scope — it has little data from some important tropical regions, for example, and only covers animals with backbones. But it highlights an important and little-considered fact: It’s not just that species are going extinct at an alarming rate — at least 100 times what could be considered “normal,” and maybe much higher than that — but that populations of still-common animals are declining very rapidly.
“I don’t think I would quibble with the trend they’re pointing out — we’re losing individuals of species and geographic ranges at a really rapid rate,” he told me. “If you keep that up, extinction of lots of species is inevitable.”
Importantly, the WWF report deals with individual animals disappearing, not with entire species.
For first time in 100 years, tiger population growing

For first time in 100 years, tiger population growing 01:12
A mass extinction, by definition, means three-quarters of all species disappear.
That could happen in 100 or 200 years, Barnosky said, but not by 2020.
Don’t look at that figure and think we have time to count our blessings. Barnosky told me we have maybe 10 to 20 years to stop the sixth extinction from becoming an inevitability. If we do nothing, expect three-quarters of species to disappear over the next century or two. In other words, what we do (or don’t do) right now will shape generations on this planet.
“Yes, species are going extinct very, very much faster than they should be,” Pimm said, “which means we are depriving countless generations to come the extremely rich diversity we inherited from our parents.”
And others experts, including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University, say the sixth extinction is already here.
“We’ve probably lost, say, 200 species — kinds of big animals — over the last couple of hundred years, but we may well have lost on the order of a billion different populations,” he said. “We are basically annihilating the life on our planet and that is the only known life we know about in the entire universe. And it’s life that shaped the planet, that made it possible for us to live here. And it’s life that still makes it possible for us to live here. (If) we don’t have the diversity of other organisms, we’re done.”
Pimm told me we have “about a human generation” to do something before it’s likely too late.
Only four northern white rhinos are left

Only four northern white rhinos are left 01:10
“If we don’t start doing a lot of things to stop extinction, we are going to see very significant losses of species,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can do and I would rather concentrate on the positive (rather) than just wallow in this really appalling number” presented by the World Wildlife Fund.
“In the last 50 years, roughly, we’ve lost 50% of the individuals in these species,” Barnosky said. “If we lose another 50% in the next 50 years we’re down to 25% of the original. Basically, in a couple hundred years you’d have almost all of these species we’re talking about blinking out — if we keep going at that rate.”
Follow CNN Opinion

Join us on Twitter and Facebook

We know how to slow the rate of extinction. We need to ditch fossil fuels to blunt climate change. We need to protect more of the land and ocean on behalf of biodiversity. (The biologist E.O. Wilson has called for half of the world to be protected, a bold and exciting proposition.) We need to stop the spread of invasive species, and we’ve got to get a handle on illegal trades like that in ivory, which Barnosky said could wipe out Africa’s elephants in 20 years if poaching rates continue.
The first step, however, is waking up to the crisis and its monstrous scope.
“The best way to envision the sixth mass extinction,” he told me earlier this year, “is to look outside and then just imagine that three out of every four of the species that were common out there are gone.”
I’d rather imagine a world where we stop anything close to that from happening.

We have 20 years — at the very most — to prevent mass extinction


Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013.
Photo @ Jim Robertson

Last Frog Of His Kind Dies Alone

By Stephen Messenger


The world is short one more species this week — and, sadly, others like it may be soon to follow.

WIKIPEDIAOn Wednesday, the Atlanta Zoo announced that a 12-year-old frog named Toughie, the last known Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog left in existence, had been found dead in the enclosure where he lived by himself.

Toughie was one of several frogs airlifted from his home in Central America in 2005, the year his kind was first discovered in the cloud forests of Panama. Biologists had hoped, by breeding them in captivity, to save their species from adeadly fungus-borne disease affecting amphibians after it was detected in the region.

Just two years later, Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs could no longer be found in the wild.

ATLANTA ZOODespite the best efforts, those breeding programs aimed at preserving frogs proved fruitless. By 2009, the last female Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog died in captivity, followed by another male in 2012. From that point forward, Toughie was all that was left.

Now, he is gone, too.

The loss of Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs is just the latest in what is considered an ongoing mass extinction of amphibians. In recent decades, more than a hundred amphibian species have been wiped out, with another 6,285 being at risk of extinction.

While the causes of this die-off are not fully understood, researchers believe human activity is in part to blame — through habitat destruction, pollution andenvironmental changes brought on by global warming.

Click here to learn more about issues impacting the world’s amphibians, and to find out how to help.