Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Update! One person killed, four people injured in polar bear attack on Spitsbergen, NRK and VG reports

August 5, 2011

One person is reported dead, according to this VG article. The party of 13 that were attacked in their tent camp near the Von Post Glacier early this morning was british, and consisted of youths from British Schools Exploring Society.

Several persons were injured when a polar bear attacked people near the Von Post Glacier approximately 40 kilometers from Longyearbyen.

It has been a busy situation for ambulance personell at Longyearbyen, and assistance from the mainland was immediately sent northwards.

This article on nrk.no first broke the news of  the incident which was reported to the Sysselmann at Spitsbergen around 07:30 AM today, August 5th. The polar bear is now dead and health personell have arrived on site, the Sysselmann reports.

“We have received four patients. All of them have moderate to serious injuries, mainly head injuries”, says Jon Mathisen, director of the department for acute medicine at the University Hospital in Tromsø to VG Nett.

Liv Ødegaard, information consultant with the Sysselmann office, tells NRK that they don’t have a complete overview of the situation so far, including how seriously hurt the persons involved are.

“We can now confirm that they were camping there, but if they were tourists or scientists is too early to say. At this stage we have made a priority of getting the injured persons medical help”, Ødegaard said earlier this morning.

None of the involved people are identified so far, and the British department of foreign affairs does not have an overview of the situation yet.

Starvation and lack of food is the most common motivation for a polar bear to attack people say Jon Aas, scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

“All polar bears are potentially dangerous, but there are higher numbers of young and starving bears involved in attacks”, Aas says.

Kjersti Norås, tourism coordinator on Spitsbergen says that the Von Post Glacier is a common site for tourists to visit. “You can go there on snowmobiles in the winter to get to Pyramiden”, she informs VG Nett.

It is recommended to carry guns when out in the field on Spitsbergen, and the company who met the bear have killed the animal themselves.

Since 1971, four people have been hurt and four people killed by polar bears on Spitsbergen, Margrete Nilsdatter Skaktavl Keyser states in her master thesis on the subject.

Polnytt comments:

When situations with polar bears arise, the only solution is to kill the animal if possible, or else get killed.

We should now ask ourselves: Is tourism on Spitsbergen OK? Perhaps travelling in these areas should be restricted to personell with real business in the area? Useful activities like science, hunting and industry? Perhaps we should keep tourists and adventurers off these pristine nature reserves?

Jonas Qvale

Retreating Arctic ice opens way to resources

May 24, 2011
By Joby Warrick and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Updated: 05/21/2011 10:01:51 PM CDT
Original article here

Retreating Arctic ice has made Greenland's western coast accessible for oil exploration and drilling, which has created competition among rival nations. (Washington Post: Joby Warrick)

NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.

In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.

Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.

The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.

In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.

“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.

Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.

“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”

Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.

Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”

“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”

In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.

Russia Embraces Offshore Arctic Drilling

February 26, 2011

By ANDREW E. KRAMER and CLIFFORD KRAUSS Published: February 15, 2011 in the New York Times – Original article here

The Prirazlomnaya oil platform was brought to the Arctic seaport of Murmansk, 906 miles north of Moscow, to be adjusted.

MOSCOW — The Arctic Ocean is a forbidding place for oil drillers. But that is not stopping Russia from jumping in — or Western oil companies from eagerly following.

Russia, where onshore oil reserves are slowly dwindling, last month signed an Arctic exploration deal with the British petroleum giant BP, whose offshore drilling prospects in the United States were dimmed by the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year. Other Western oil companies, recognizing Moscow’s openness to new ocean drilling, are now having similar discussions with Russia.

New oil from Russia could prove vital to world supplies in coming decades, now that it has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest oil producer, and as long as global demand for oil continues to rise.

But as the offshore Russian efforts proceed, the oil companies will be venturing where other big countries ringing the Arctic Ocean — most notably the United States and Canada — have been wary of letting oil field development proceed, for both safety and environmental reasons.

After the BP accident in the gulf last year highlighted the consequences of a catastrophic ocean spill, American and Canadian regulators focused on the special challenges in the Arctic.

The ice pack and icebergs pose various threats to drilling rigs and crews. And if oil were spilled in the winter, cleanup would take place in the total darkness that engulfs the region during those months.

Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell postponed plans for drilling off Alaska’s Arctic coast, as the company continued to face hurdles from wary Washington regulators.

The Russians, who control far more prospective drilling area in the Arctic Ocean than the United States and Canada combined, take a far different view.

As its Siberian oil fields mature, daily output in Russia, without new development, could be reduced by nearly a million barrels by the year 2035, according to the International Energy Agency. With its economy dependent on oil and gas, which make up about 60 percent of all exports, Russia sees little choice but to go offshore — using foreign partners to provide expertise and share the billions of dollars in development costs.

And if anything, the gulf disaster encouraged Russia to push ahead with BP as its first partner. In the view of Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, BP is the safest company to hire for offshore work today, having learned its lesson in the gulf.

“One beaten man is worth two unbeaten men,” Mr. Putin said, citing a Russian proverb, after BP signed its Arctic deal with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company. The joint venture calls for the companies to explore three sections in the Kara Sea, an icebound coastal backwater north of central Russia.

The BP agreement touched off little public reaction in Russia, in part because the environmental movement is weak but also because opposition politicians have no way to block or hinder the process.

The Arctic holds one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural gas, the United States Geological Survey estimates. According to a 2009 report by the Energy Department, 43 of the 61 significant Arctic oil and gas fields are in Russia. The Russian side of the Arctic is particularly rich in natural gas, while the North American side is richer in oil.

While the United States and Canada balk, other countries are clearing Arctic space for the industry. Norway, which last year settled a territorial dispute with Russia, is preparing to open new Arctic areas for drilling.

Last year Greenland, which became semi-autonomous from Denmark in 2009, allowed Cairn Energy to do some preliminary drilling. Cairn, a Scottish company, is planning four more wells this year, while Exxon MobilChevron and Shell are also expected to drill in the area over the next few years.

But of the five countries with Arctic Ocean coastline, Russia has the most at stake in exploring and developing the region.

“Russia is one of the fundamental building blocks in world oil supply,” said Daniel Yergin, the oil historian and chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “It has a critical role in the global energy balance. The Arctic will be one of the critical factors in determining how much oil Russia is producing in 15 years and exporting to the rest of the world.”

Following the template of the BP deal, Rosneft is negotiating joint venture agreements with other major oil companies shut out of North America and intent on exploring the Arctic continental shelf off Russia’s northern coast. That includes Shell, its chief executive said last month. Rosneft’s chief executive, Eduard Y. Khudainatov, said other foreign oil company representatives were lining up outside his office these days.

Artur N. Chilingarov, a polar explorer, has embodied Moscow’s sweeping Arctic ambitions ever since he rode in a minisubmarine and placed a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean under the North Pole, claiming it for Russia, in a 2007 expedition.

“The future is on the shelf,” Mr. Chilingarov, a member of Russia’s Parliament, the Duma, said in an interview. “We already pumped the land dry.”

Russia has been a dominant Arctic oil power since the Soviet Union began making important discoveries in the land-based Tazovskoye field on the shore of the Ob Bay in Siberia in 1962. The United States was not far behind with the discovery of the shallow-water Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska five years later.

What is new is the move offshore.

The waters of the Arctic are particularly perilous for drilling because of the extreme cold, long periods of darkness, dense fogs and hurricane-strength winds. Pervasive ice cover for eight to nine months out of the year can block relief ships in case of a blowout. And, as environmentalists note, whales, polar bears and other species depend on the region’s fragile habitats.

Such concerns have blocked new drilling in Alaska’s Arctic waters since 2003, despite a steep decline in oil production in the state and intensive lobbying by oil companies.

In Canada, Arctic offshore drilling is delayed as the National Energy Board is reviewing its regulations after the gulf spill.

Mr. Chilingarov placed a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean under the North Pole, claiming the area for Russia, in a 2007 polar expedition.

But Russia is pressing ahead. The central decision opening the Russian Arctic easily passed Parliament in 2008, as an amendment to a law on subsoil resources. It allowed the ministry of natural resources to transfer offshore blocks to state-controlled oil companies in a no-bid process that does not involve detailed environmental reviews.

Until recently Russia regarded the Kara Sea, where BP and Rosneft intend to drill, as primarily an icy dump. For years, the Soviet navy released nuclear waste into the sea, including several spent submarine reactors that were dropped overboard at undisclosed locations.

Rosneft executives say their exploration drilling will not stir up radiation.

But in any case, Mr. Chilingarov, the advocate for Russian polar claims, said a little radiation was nothing to worry about. He said that his son was born on Novaya Zemlya, an Arctic testing site for nuclear weapons during the cold war, and is now “a bit taller than me.”

“In small doses,” Mr. Chilingarov said, “radiation is good for growth.”

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow and Clifford Krauss from Houston.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 19, 2011
A chart on Wednesday with an article about Russia’s eagerness to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean gave an incorrect unit of measurement for estimates of natural gas reserves in the region. The shaded areas in the chart are believed to hold more than 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, not cubic tons. The unit of measurement was correct in an online version of the chart, available at nytimes.com/business.

Iceland Volcano Drilling Suggests Magma Could Become Source of High-Grade Energy

February 17, 2011

This is a view of the Krafla volcano, Iceland, across the explosion crater Viti that erupted in 1787, showing the drilling rig. The borehole encountered molten rock at 6,500 feet depth. (Credit: G.O. Fridleifsson.)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2011) Original article here

Geologists drilling an exploratory geothermal well in 2009 in the Krafla volcano in Iceland encountered a problem they were simply unprepared for: magma (molten rock or lava underground) which flowed unexpectedly into the well at 2.1 kilometers (6,900 ft) depth, forcing the researchers to terminate the drilling.

“To the best of our knowledge, only one previous instance of magma flowing into a geothermal well while drilling has been documented,” said Wilfred Elders, a professor emeritus of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, who led the research team. “We were drilling a well that was designed to search for very deep — 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet) — geothermal resources in the volcano. While the magma flow interrupted our project, it gave us a unique opportunity to study the magma and test a very hot geothermal system as an energy source.”

Currently, a third of the electric power and 95 percent of home heating in Iceland is produced from steam and hot water that occurs naturally in volcanic rocks.

“The economics of generating electric power from such geothermal steam improves the higher its temperature and pressure,” Elders explained. “As you drill deeper into a hot zone the temperature and pressure rise, so it should be possible to reach an environment where a denser fluid with very high heat content, but also with unusually low viscosity occurs, so-called ‘supercritical water.’ Although such supercritical water is used in large coal-fired electric power plants, no one had tried to use supercritical water that should occur naturally in the deeper zones of geothermal areas.”

Elders and colleagues report in the March issue of Geology (the research paper was published online on Feb. 3) that although the Krafla volcano, like all other volcanoes in Iceland, is basaltic (a volcanic rock containing 45-50 percent silica), the magma they encountered is a rhyolite (a volcanic rock containing 65-70 percent silica).

“Our analyses show that this magma formed by partial melting of certain basalts within the Krafla volcano,” Elders said. “The occurrence of minor amounts of rhyolite in some basalt volcanoes has always been something of a puzzle. It had been inferred that some unknown process in the source area of magmas, in the mantle deep below the crust of the Earth, allows some silica-rich rhyolite melt to form in addition to the dominant silica-poor basalt magma.”

Elders explained that in geothermal systems water reacts with and alters the composition of the rocks, a process termed “hydrothermal alteration.” “Our research shows that the rhyolite formed when a mantle-derived basaltic magma encountered hydrothermally altered basalt, and partially melted and assimilated that rock,” he said.

Elders and his team studied the well within the Krafla caldera as part of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, an industry-government consortium, to test whether geothermal fluids at supercritical pressures and temperatures could be exploited as sources of power. Elders’s research team received support of $3.5 million from the National Science Foundation and $1.5 million from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.

In the spring of 2009 Elders and his colleagues progressed normally with drilling the well to 2 kilometers (6,600 feet) depth. In the next 100 meters (330 feet), however, multiple acute drilling problems occurred. In June 2009, the drillers determined that at 2104 meters (6,900 feet) depth, the rate of penetration suddenly increased and the torque on the drilling assembly increased, halting its rotation. When the drill string was pulled up more than 10 meters (33 feet) and lowered again, the drill bit became stuck at 2095 meters (6,875 feet). An intrusion of magma had filled the lowest 9 meters (30 feet) of the open borehole. The team terminated the drilling and completed the hole as a production well.

“When the well was tested, high pressure dry steam flowed to the surface with a temperature of 400 Celsius or 750 Fahrenheit, coming from a depth shallower than the magma,” Elders said. “We estimated that this steam could generate 25 megawatts of electricity if passed through a suitable turbine, which is enough electricity to power 25,000 to 30,000 homes. What makes this well an attractive source of energy is that typical high-temperature geothermal wells produce only 5 to 8 megawatts of electricity from 300 Celsius or 570 Fahrenheit wet steam.”

Elders believes it should be possible to find reasonably shallow bodies of magma, elsewhere in Iceland and the world, wherever young volcanic rocks occur.

“In the future these could become attractive sources of high-grade energy,” said Elders, who got involved in the project in 2000 when a group of Icelandic engineers and scientists invited him to join them to explore concepts of developing geothermal energy.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project has not abandoned the search for supercritical geothermal resources. The project plans to drill a second deep hole in southwest Iceland in 2013.

Elders was joined in the research project by researchers at HS Orka hf (HS Power Co.), Iceland; UC Davis; Stanford University; Iceland GeoSurvey; Landsvirkjun Power, Iceland; the U.S. Geological Survey; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; and the University of Oregon, Eugene.

Castration could save reindeer in warming Arctic

January 30, 2011

MSNBC – original article here

TROMSOE, Norway — Indigenous Sami peoples in the Arctic may have found a way to help their reindeer herds cope with climate change: more castration.

Research by Sami experts shows that sterilized males can grow larger and so are better at digging for food — as Arctic temperatures vary more, thawing snow often refreezes to form thick ice over lichen pastures.

Alissa de Carbonnel / AFP - Getty Images Reindeer herds like this one in Lovozero, Russia, are part of the native Arctic culture.

Neutered males are more able to break through ice with their hooves or antlers, and seem more willing than other males to move aside and share food with calves that can die of starvation in bad freeze-thaw winters like 2000-01.

“To make herds more resilient in the future, we need to re-learn the traditional knowledge of castration,” said professor Svein Mathiesen, coordinator of the University of the Arctic’s Institute of Circumpolar Reindeer Husbandry.

More castration “could be useful to adapt to climate change,” he told Reuters in the Arctic city of Tromsoe. “These animals are very good diggers for the small calves in the most critical period of the winter.”

Castration has traditionally been used by reindeer herders, partly to make wild animals more docile. Herders on the Yamal peninsula in Russia still neuter about half of all males — usually by biting into the testicles with their teeth.

Far fewer animals are castrated outside Russia. About 100,000 Sami own about 2.5 million reindeer in homelands in the Nordic countries and Russia.

The traditional Sami biting technique aims for “half-castration” — under which the animals become sterile but still produce some of the male hormone testosterone that promotes muscle growth.

Sami in Norway, where laws limit castration to surgery with anesthetics, are now experimenting with a vaccine to recreate the effects of half-castration.

No interest in sex also helps neutered males in winter.

“Males castrated in the traditional way would have an increased chance of survival over other males since they maintain body weight and condition during the rutting season,” according to a research document by Eli Risten Nergaard of Sami University College.

The Arctic region is warming at double the global rate in a trend blamed by the U.N.’s panel of climate scientists on greenhouse gases from mankind’s burning of fossil fuels.

Yamal herders castrate many of their reindeer, partly because they need strong, docile animals to pull heavy sleds. In Norway, Sami have come to rely on snow-scooters and get most money for calf meat, meaning most males are slaughtered young.

The Sami castration study indicates the complexities of adapting to the impacts of climate change. Many other scientists are focusing on issues such as how to cope with river floods or rising sea levels, or ways to develop drought-resistant crops.

Castrated reindeer also keep their antlers for much of the winter while normal males shed their antlers each autumn after the mating season. That implies that Rudolph, pulling Father Christmas’s sled, has been castrated.

Tertiary starts drilling on Lappland gold project

January 19, 2011
StockMarketWire.com, original article here
Fluorspar and gold miner Tertiary Minerals plc said a drilling rig is being mobilised this week to its Kiekerömaa gold project in the Lappland Greenstone Belt in northern Finland. 

Drilling will test the Kiekerömaa gold mineralised zone previously discovered by Finnish company Outokumpu in 1997.

Eight holes are planned over a 300m strike length, subject to initial drill holes achieving acceptable core recovery.

Drilling is expected to take four weeks with assay results becoming available eight weeks after completion.

Chairman Patrick Cheetham said, ‘Whilst our key focus is on the objective of becoming a major European supplier of fluorspar, a portion of the funds recently raised has been reserved for drilling on the company’s gold projects.

‘The gold mineralised zone at Kiekerömaa has not been tested by diamond drilling until now and the swampy ground requires that it be drilled in winter when the ground is frozen.

‘We are keen to get this drilling programme under way to allow time this winter for a follow-up round of drilling if initial results are favourable.’

Shares were up 0.5p at 11.75p.

Story provided by StockMarketWire.com

Neanderthal life spans similar to modern humans

January 12, 2011
By Charles Q. Choi, msnbc.com 1/11/2011
Original article here

Those who investigate Neanderthal remains have long known of a puzzling gap — elderly individuals are rare. Scientists have thus suggested that these prehistoric humans might have had an inherently shorter life expectancy than us modern humans, with our lineage ultimately outnumbering theirs, and so contributing to their demise.

Not so, according to a new study. Our once closest living relatives likely had similar life spans as us.

Our species, Homo sapiens , is the only surviving lineage of the genus Homo. Still, there once were many others, all of whom could also be called human.

Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed fossil records to gauge the adult life spans of Neanderthals and early modern humans, which coexisted in different regions for about 150,000 years. He found roughly the same number of 20- to 40-year-old adults and adults older than 40 in both Neanderthal and early modern human populations, suggesting life expectancy was probably the same for both.

“Arguments for longer survival among early modern humans causing the demise of the Neandertals have no basis in fact,” Trinkaus told LiveScience. (Neanderthals are also called Neandertals due to changes in the German spelling over the years.)

Trinkaus did caution that a number of factors might skew his life-expectancy calculations. For instance, all these archaic and modern humans apparently had very mobile lifestyles during the Pleistocene to search for their next meals. That likely means any older members who could not keep up were left behind to die, and their remains would have been scattered by scavengers and lost from the fossil record.

Still, “new fossil discoveries could change the pattern some, but it is unlikely to alter it very much,” Trinkaus said. Overall, he contends that longevity did not factor into the extinction of Neanderthals. If early modern humans did have a population advantage, he argued, it was probably more due to high fertility rates and lower infant mortality.

Trinkaus detailed his findings online Jan. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Neanderthals also enjoyed their greens: Meat-only diet was myth, teeth reveal

January 9, 2011

By COLIN FERNANDEZ 28th December 2010
dailymail.co.uk
Original article here

For years it was believed the Neanderthals were carnivores who devoured meat.

But new research has found that not only did our primitive ancestors eat a lot of greens, they were able to cook them as well.

It was widely believed that the limited meat-only diet of Neanderthals and their lack of cooking skills contributed to their extinction.

Vegetable kebab? A depiction of a Neanderthal woman working with fire

Their rivals Homo Sapiens, our direct ancestors, who lived alongside them were more adaptable as they had a wider variety of food sources to choose from.

But a microscopic analysis of the fossilised teeth of Neanderthals reveals their diet was more varied than previously thought – with their vegetable intake including beans, roots and tubers and palm dates.

The evidence, from cave sites in Iraq and Belgium, also suggests Neanderthals controlled fire in much the same way as Homo Sapiens.

Many of the plant remains had undergone physical changes that make scientists believe they were cooked before they were eaten.

Researchers are still trying to identify remains of other plants on the teeth.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers led by Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, said: ‘Our results indicate that Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.’

Dental data: A neanderthal's tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thoughtDental data: A neanderthal’s tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thought 

Neanderthals are thought to have migrated from Africa between 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. They were followed 70,000 years ago by Homo Sapiens, but around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals died out – the exact reason for which remains a mystery.

Excavations carried out as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project had revealed that seafood figured in the Neanderthal diet.

Hearth embers, shells, animal bones and the remains of marine species were found in the Gorham and Vanguard caves, on Gibraltar’s eastern flank, by an international team of scientists led by Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum and Clive Finlayson from the Gibraltar Museum.

An impression of the Neanderthals’ coastal foraging habits and diet was provided by the discovery of fossiled bones and shells from dolphins, monk seals and mussels alongside the more expected bear, ibex, red deer and wild boar.

Many of the bones showed signs of damage from cutting and peeling, and the mussels were apparently warmed on a fire to open them up.

Earlier this week, scientists revealed a new variety of humans called Denisovans lived alongside Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.

The cavemen were identified from DNA taken from a tooth and finger bone found in a cave in Siberia.

It was found in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia in 2008 alongside ornaments and jewellery.

Provisional tests published earlier this year suggested that the remains belonged to an entirely new species.

The Denisovans were physically different from the thickset Neanderthals and modern humans, although they also walked upright.

Did man come out of Israel? panel

Cretan Tools Point To 130,000-Year-Old Sea Travel

January 7, 2011

by The Associated Press/via NPR, original article here

2_Greece_Ancient_Seafarers.sff.jpg
ATHENS, Greece January 3, 2011, 04:10 pm ET

Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered what may be evidence of one of the world’s first sea voyages by human ancestors, the Greek Culture Ministry said Monday. A ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island’s south coast.

Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.

“The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids’ cognitive abilities,” the ministry statement said.

The previous earliest evidence of open-sea travel in Greece dates back 11,000 years (worldwide, about 60,000 years — although considerably earlier dates have been proposed).

1_Greece_Ancient_Seafarers.sff.jpg

The tools were found during a survey of caves and rock shelters near the village of Plakias by archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Culture Ministry.

Such rough stone implements are associated with Heidelberg Man and Homo Erectus, extinct precursors of the modern human race, which evolved from Africa about 200,000 years ago.

“Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete,” said senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki, who was not involved in the survey. She said it was unclear where the hominids had sailed from, or whether the settlements were permanent.

1_Greece_Ancient_Seafarers.sff.jpg

“They may have come from Africa or from the east,” she said. “Future study should help.”

The team of archaeologists has applied for permission to conduct a more thorough excavation of the area, which Greek authorities are expected to approve later this year.

One scientist’s hobby: recreating the Ice Age

December 19, 2010

Russian claims his theory to introduce herds of animals to Siberia can slow global warming.

By ARTHUR MAX The Associated Press 11/27/2010
Original article here


Semi-wild Yakutian horses are seen at the Pleistocene Park, a 40,000 acre wilderness in northern Siberia, Russia. Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is trying to recreate conditions from the end of the Ice Age when this area was rich in wildlife and summer meadows.

CHERSKY, Russia — Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.

Later, the predators will come — Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

“Some people have a small garden. I have an ice age park. It’s my hobby,” says Zimov, smiling through his graying beard. His true profession is quantum physics.

Climate change is felt most sharply in the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Most climate scientists say human activity, especially industrial pollution and the byproducts of everyday living like home heating and driving cars, is triggering an unnatural warming of the Earth. On Monday, negotiators representing 194 countries open a two-week conference in Cancun, Mexico, on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the pace of climate change.

‘Interesting experiment’
Zimov is trying to recreate an ecosystem that disappeared 10,000 years ago with the end of the ice age, which closed the 1.8 million-year Pleistocene era and ushered in the global climate roughly as we know it.

He believes herds of grazers will turn the tundra, which today supports only spindly larch trees and shrubs, into luxurious grasslands. Tall grasses with complex root systems will stabilize the frozen soil, which is now thawing at an ever-increasing rate, he says.

Herbivores keep wild grass short and healthy, sending up fresh shoots through the summer and autumn. Their manure gives crucial nourishment. In winter, the animals trample and flatten the snow that otherwise would insulate the ground from the cold air. That helps prevent the frozen ground, or permafrost, from thawing and releasing powerful greenhouse gases. Grass also reflects more sunlight than forests, a further damper to global warming.

It would take millions of animals to change the landscape of Siberia and effectively seal the permafrost. But left alone, Zimov argues, the likes of caribou, buffalo and musk oxen multiply quickly. Wherever they graze “new pastures will appear … beautiful grassland.”

The project is being watched not only by climate scientists but by paleontologists and environmentalists who have an interest in “rewilding.”

“This is a very interesting experiment,” said Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum in London. “I think it’s valid from an ecological point of view to put back animals that did formerly live there,” he told AP Television News. He disapproved of suggestions to rewild nonnative species — for example, relocating elephants and rhinos to the American plains.

Zimov began the project in 1989, fencing off 160 square kilometers (40,000 acres) of forest, meadows, shrub land and lakes. It is surrounded by another 600 square kilometers (150,000 acres) of wilderness.

It is an offshoot of the Northeast Science Station, which he founded and where he has lived for 30 years. Already icebound by October, the park is 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland from the station, accessible only by boat in summer and by snow vehicles after the rivers freeze.

A 32-meter (105-foot) tower inside the park gives constant readings of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. The data feeds into a global monitoring system overseen by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zimov’s research on permafrost, greenhouse gas emissions and mammoth archaeology has attracted world scientists to his laboratories, a small cluster of cabins and a tiny chapel on a rocky bluff above a channel of the Kolyma River. A 20-bed barge is used for field trips in summer, and a $100,000 hovercraft is on order. Zimov sometimes uses an old Russian tank to bring supplies from the Chinese border, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away.

Part of the station’s attraction — and deterrence — is its remoteness. It is 6,600 kilometers (4,000 miles) and eight time zones east of Moscow. The nearby town of Chersky, with some 5,000 people, has few amenities, and the nearest city, Yakutsk, is a 4-1/2 flight. Many researchers, particularly Americans, prefer to work in Alaska or northern Canada, which are more accessible.

“Most of the Arctic is in Russia, and yet most of the Arctic research isn’t,” said Max Holmes, of Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, director of the Polaris Project, which has sent undergraduates to the station for the last three summers.

‘What’s $1 million?’
Zimov started the park with a herd of 40 Yakutian horses, a semi-wild breed with a handsomely long mane that is raised by Yakuts and other native people for their meat. Short, sturdy and broad-backed, they survive harsh Siberian winters with the help of a furry hide, thick layers of fat and the ability to paw through a meter (3 feet) of snow to forage.

Of his first herd, Zimov said 15 were killed by wolves and bears, 12 died from eating wild hemlock that grows in the park, and two slipped through the perimeter and made their way back some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to their

But he bought more. Now the horses have learned to avoid poisonous plants and to resist predators. Over the last three years, more colts were born and survived than horses lost.

The challenge is to find the right balance between grazers and predators, and how to help his animals get through their first winters.

His workers still give occasional buckets of grain to the horses to supplement their diet with salt. About half the horses come regularly to the cabin where a caretaker stays year-round. The other half are rarely seen except for their tracks.

Zimov also has had problems with the moose that he brought inside his enclosure. Moose still live in small numbers in surrounding forests, and the males jump back and forth over the 6-foot-high fence.

In September he traveled to a nature reserve on Wrangel Island, about five hours by boat across the East Siberia Sea, and brought back six 4-month-old musk oxen. One died a few weeks later. The others are kept in a small enclosure and fed hay until they can fend for themselves.

His objective is to see whether a thriving population of grazing animals will regenerate grasslands that disappeared long ago, which would slow and even halt the accelerating pace of permafrost thaw. So far, he says, the results are encouraging.

Today he has 70 animals in the park. He wants thousands to restock Siberia. To bring 1,000 bison from North America would cost $1 million, Zimov says, a small price to pay.

“If permafrost melts, 100 gigatons of carbon will be released this century,” he said. “What’s $1 million? One regular grant.”

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AP Television News producer Siobhan Starrs and APTN cameraman Dmitry Kozlov contributed to this story.