Monday, 20 November 2017

Chuvashiteuthis aenigmatica: A Megateuthidid Belemnite from the Late Jurassic of the Chuvashia Republic, Russia.

Belemnites were Squid-like Cephalopod Molluscs that appeared in the Early Jurassic and survived until the End of the Cretaceous. Unlike modern Squid they had a mineralized internal skeleton, the rostrum, which is often found preserved as fossils. Many Belemnites were extremely numerous and wide-ranging, and the group had a high range of species turnover, making them very useful for biostratigraphers, scientists that date rocks by using their fossil content.

In a paper published in the Bulletin of Geosciences on 30 September 2017, Alexei Ippolitov of the Geological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Berezin of the Chuvash Society of Archaeology and Natural History, Mikhail Rogov, also of the Geological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, and Bhawanisingh Desai of the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, describe a new species of Belemnite from the Late Jurassic Novikovo Formation of the Chuvashia Republic in Russia.

The new species is named Chuvashiteuthis aenigmatica, where 'Chuvashiteuthis' means 'Chuvashia-Squid' and 'aenigmatica' means 'an enigma'. The species is described from two complete rostra, 35.0 ans 28.6 mm in length, conical in shape with a distinct dorsal ridge. These are preserved as calcite, which is likely to have been the original material as aragonite is frequently preserved in the Novikovo Formation. This is important, as Belemnites, like other Mollusc groups apparently started out with aragonitic skeletons, then evolved more stable calcite skeletons several times independently, making understanding the mineralogy of Belemnite rostra important for understanding their affinities.

Chuvashiteuthis aenigmatica, from the Late Jurassic of Chuvashia. (A) first specimen in (A1) dorsal view; (A2) left lateral view; (A3) ventral view; (A4) cross-section at the apex; (A5) cross section at the anterior end; (A6) dorsal side of the alveolus, showing imprint of the proostracum); (B) Second specimen in (B1) dorsal view; (B2) right lateral view; (B3) ventral view; (B4) cross-section at the anterior end). Ippolitov et al. (2017).

Ippolitov et al. consider Chuvashiteuthis aenigmatica to be a Megateuthidid, a member of a group of Belemnites which died out at the end of the Bathonian Stage of the Middle Jurassic, about 168.3 million years ago. However the Novikovo Formation has been dated to the Late Kimmeridgian stage of the Late Jurassic, using Ammonites (another form of Mesozoic Cephalopod used in stratigraphy), i.e. about 157.3 million years old. If this assessment is correct then these specimens extend the known range of the  Megateuthidids by around 11 million years.

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Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake in eastern Tibet.

The United States Geological Survey recorded a Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake at a depth of 8.0 km, about 64 km to the east of the city of Nyingchi in the Bayi District of southeast Tibet, slightly before 6.35a m local time on Saturday 18 November 2017 (slightly before 10.35 pm on Friday 17 November, GMT). The incident was felt across eastern Tibet, as well as in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states in India, and is known to have triggered a number of small landslips, as well as causing some minor damage to buildings, but no major damage or casualties have been reported.

A rockfall blocks a road in Mainling County, Tibet, following the 18 November 2017 Earthquake. Liu Pengchao/Xinhua/AP.

Earthquake activity in the area is caused by the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau, due to the impact of India into Eurasia to the south. he Indian Plate is moving northwards at a rate of 5 cm per year, causing it to impact into Eurasia, which is also moving northward, but only at a rate of 2 cm per year. The collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates has lead to the formation of the Himalayan Mountains, the Tibetan Plateau, and the mountains of southwest China, Central Asia and the Hindu Kush.

 Block diagram showing how the impact of the Indian Plate into Eurasia is causing uplift on the Tibetan Plateau. Jayne Doucette/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Witness accounts of Earthquakes can help geologists to understand these events, and the structures that cause them. The international non-profit organisation Earthquake Report is interested in hearing from people who may have felt this event; if you felt this quake then you can report it to Earthquake Report here.

The approximate location of the 18 November 2017 Tibet Earthquake. USGS.

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Miner killed in accident at Masimong Gold Mine in Free State, South Africa.

A mineworker has died in a accident at the Masimong Gold Mine at Wekom, in Free State, South Africa, on Saturday 18 November 2017. It is understood that the man was operating drilling equipment when he was killed by as 'fall of ground' incident (i.e. material falling from the ceiling of the chamber). Mine operators Harmony Gold have expressed their condolences to the miner's family, but are making no further comments pending the outcome of an investigation into the incident.

Underground operations at the Masimong Mine. Harmony Gold.

This incident brings the number of fatalities in the South African mining industry to 77 this year, up from 73 in 2016, with fall of ground and seismic incidents being the two largest contributors to this rise. This has raised concerns with mining authorities in the country, where the level of fatalities has been in steady decline due to tightening safety standards, the overall number of fatalities having fallen by 88% between 1993 and 2016, with the number of deaths due to fall of ground incidents reducing by 92% over the same period. The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also regards fall of ground incidents as the single largest danger to underground mineworkers, with drilling being one of the highest risk activities associated with this.

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Teenager missing after flash flood in Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates.

Rescue teams are searching for a teenage boy who was swept away by a flash flood close to the town of Khor Fakkan on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates on Thursday 16 November 2017. Albert Joy, 18, an Indian national studying at the Birla Institute of Technology Dubai Campus at Ras al Khaimah, was travelling in a vehicle with five friends when it became trapped in the flood. Mr Joy's friends were persuaded to leap into the water, from where they were rescued by local residents, but Joy himself was apparently afraid to leave the vehicle and was swept away with it. Local rescue police teams and volunteers searching for Mr Joy have been joined by specialist police rescue teams from Sharjah and Dubai, as well as the Abu Dhabi Police Air Wing.

Indian students on top of a vehicle trapped in a flood near Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emiates, on 16 November 2017. UAE2All/The National.

Like many desert areas the Arabian Peninsula, while generally arid, is prone to occasional severe flooding. This stems from two causes; firstly the arid climate prevents the development of a thick soil layer which would be expected in less dry areas, so that in much of the area (non-porous) bedrock is either exposed or close to the surface, and secondly the hot climate leads to heavy evaporation from nearby seas and oceans, so that if the wind changes direction and brings water-laden air to the area, it brings a lot of precipitation with it. This combination of heavy rainfall and low ground absorbency leads to large amounts of water at the surface, typically moving downhill at some speed. Wadis, dry channels or ravines through which these sudden floods are channelled, can be particularly dangerous at these times, particularly as they often appear to resemble natural pathways or even camp sites to people unfamiliar with the climate. 

The approximate location of the 16 November Khor Fakkan flash flood. Google Maps.

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Asteroid 2017 VF14 passes the Earth.

Asteroid 2017 VF14 passed by the Earth at a distance of about 305 900 km (0.79 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon, 0.20% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun), at about 3.30 pm GMT on Monday 13 November 2017. There was no danger of the asteroid hitting us, though were it to do so it would not have presented a significant threat. 2017 VF14 has an estimated equivalent diameter of 3-12 m (i.e. it is estimated that a spherical object with the same volume would be 3-12 m in diameter), and an object of this size would be expected to explode in an airburst (an explosion caused by superheating from friction with the Earth's atmosphere, which is greater than that caused by simply falling, due to the orbital momentum of the asteroid) in the atmosphere more than 28 km above the ground, with only fragmentary material reaching the Earth's surface.

The calculated orbit of 2017 VF14. Minor Planet Center.

2017 VF14 was discovered on 15 November 2017 (two days after its closest approach to the Earth) by the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Survey at the Steward Observatory on Mount Lemmon in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. The designation 2017 VF14 implies that the asteroid was the 356th object (object F14) discovered in the first half of November 2017 (period 2017 V). 

2017 VF14 has a 651 day orbital period and an eccentric orbit tilted at an angle of 0.14° to the plane of the Solar System, which takes it from 0.81 AU from the Sun (i.e. 81% of he average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun) to 2.13 AU from the Sun (i.e. 213% of the average distance at which the Earth orbits the Sun, more than the distance at which the planet Mars orbits). It is therefore classed as an Apollo Group Asteroid (an asteroid that is on average further from the Sun than the Earth, but which does get closer). This means that 2017 VF14 has occasional close encounters with the Earth, which it last came close to in June 2010, and is next predicted to pass in November 2024, as well as the planet Mars, which it last came close to in February 2003, and is next predicted to pass in December 2026.

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Versperopterylus lamadongensis: A new species of Anurognathid Pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous of Liaoning Province, China.

The Anurognathid Pterosaurs are small, short-tailed Pterosaurs known from the Jurassic of Asia, Europe, and possibly North America. They has proportionally large eye-sockets, which has been taken as evidence of a nocturnal or crepuscular lifestyle, and spaced, pointed teeth, suitable for catching Insects or possibly Fish, which has led to suggestions that they may have had a lifestyle similar to that of modern Bats.

In a paper published in the Geological Society London Special Publications on 8 September 2017, Junchang Lü of the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, and the Key Laboratory of Stratigraphy and Palaeontology of the Ministry of Land and Resources of China, Qingjin Meng, Baopeng Wang and Di Liu of the Beijing Museum of Natural History, Caizhi Shen, also of the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, and the Key Laboratory of Stratigraphy and Palaeontology of the Ministry of Land and Resources of China, and Yuguang Zhang, also of the Beijing Museum of Natural History, describe a new species of Anurognathid Pterosaur from the Early Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Jianchang County in Liaoning Province, China (part of the Jehol Biota).

The new species is named Versperopterylus lamadongensis, where 'Versperopterylus' means 'Dusk-wing', in reference to the presumed Bat-like habits of Anurognathid Pterosaurs, and 'lamadongensis' means 'from Lamadong', in reference to the location where the specimen was found. The species is described from a single specimen, preserved on a slab, which is partially disarticulated, but almost complete, lacking only one humerus, some fingers from the left hand and some cervical (neck) vertebrae.

Photograph (a) and line drawings (b) of Versperopterylus. Abbreviations: cav, caudal vertebrae; csk, crushed skull; co, coracoids; dv, dorsal vertebrae; dr, dorsal ribs; f, femur; fot, fourth toe; fi, fibula; ft, first toe; h,, humerus; lj, lower jaw; mc, maniual claw; mcI-IV, metacarpals I–IV; mttI-IV, metatarsals I–IV; mttv, metatarsal V; pt, pteroid; rd, radius; sc, scapula; ti, tibia; ul, ulna. Lü et al. (2017).

The specimen is estimated to have had a wing-span of about a metre. It had an exceptionally small skull, which was wider than it was long, though this is somewhat crushed, obscuring any detail. The upper jaw appears to have had about 12 teeth. One of its toes appears to have been reversed in life, which is likely to have been an adaptation for gripping, which in turn strongly suggests an arboreal (tree-dwelling) life-style.

Artists interpretation of Versperopterylus as a living animal. Zhao Chuang in et al. (2017).

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Sunday, 19 November 2017

Navigobius kaguya: A new species of Dartfish from Japan and the Philippines.

Dartfish, Ptereleotrinae, are small Goby-like Perciform Fish closely related to Wormfish, and found exclusively in marine environments. Three members of the genus Navigobius have previously been described from Japan, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam (Borneo), but specimens likely to belong to this genus have been observed in the aquarium trade with origins from as far west as the Maldives.

In a paper published in the journal Zootaxa on 13 November 2017, Anthony Gill of the Macleay Museum and School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney and Ichthyology at the Australian Museum, Yi-Kai Tea of Newtown in New South Wales and Hiroshi Senou of the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History, describe a new species of Navigobius from waters off the Ryukyu Islands, Japan, and Luzon Island, the Philippines.

The new species is named Navigobius kaguya, in reference to the Moon Princess Kaguya from Japanese folklore, in reference to markings on the dorsal fins of the fish, which resemble Moon phase charts. The species is described from two female specimens, one caught at a depth of 42 m between Ie-jima Island and Okinawa-jima Islands, in the Ryukyu Archipelago, and one caught at a depth of 55-65 m, off the coast of Zambales Province on Luzon Island, the Philippines. These specimens are 52 and 49 mm long, respectively, and are an orangish or pinkish yellow-grey colour, lighter on the underside, with yellow, white and purple markings. 

 Navigobius kaguya, female, off coast of Ida, Zambales Province, Luzon, Philippines.
SK Tea in Gill et al. (2017).

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