Frans Lanting photographed billions of years of life

This video is called The Beauty of Diatoms – Perspectives on Ocean Science.

Yesterday, I went to the natural history museum.

The museum basically consists of two buildings: a seventeenth century building, originally built for plague patients (however, since that building arose, there were no plague epidemics in the city any more).

The other building is a high late twentieth century tower.

They are connected by a pedestrians’ bridge.

Usually, on that bridge, there are plastic life-size models of two adult rhinoceroses and one baby rhino.

However, for the moment, only the baby rhino is left.

Its plastic ‘parents’ were moved because of an exhibition.

That exhibition is by nature photographer Frans Lanting.

It is called LIFE.

Lanting’s idea is to make photographs now about life as it evolved through billions of years.

For instance, one can today still photograph horseshoe crabs, very similar to horseshoe crabs of hundreds of millions of years ago.

Frans Lanting went to photograph in various continents, including Patriot Hills in Antarctica.

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Volcanoes of Hawaii and elsewhere.

He took pictures of billions of years old stromatolites (cyanobacteria fossils) in Australia.

Through a microscope, he took photographs of diatoms, a next step in the evolution of life.

The photographs looked strangely like abstract paintings by Kandinsky.

Also, a photograph of snub-nosed darts.

Of a cheetah pursuing an impala.

Of the sub-Antarctic Snares archipelago just south of New Zealand, with kelp and Snares crested penguins.

There was also another, small, special exhibition in the museum, on recent research into fossils of Flores island in Indonesia, including the ‘hobbit’ Homo floresiensis, the miniature Stegodon elephant, etc.

The museum cinema had a film on polar bears in the Arctic.

There was a strong smell in the museum, as there is work in progress on a recently beached fin whale.

Diatom fossils of the Antarctic: here.

Frans Lanting’s, others’ Oostvaardersplassen photos: here.

Using multi-coloured spray paint, researchers have shown how rock-structures similar to the ‘stromatolites’ that scientists think are among the earliest fossils on Earth can form in the absence of life: here.

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    From Beneath Antarctica’s Ross Sea, Scientists Retrieve Pristine Record of the Continent’s Climate Cycles

    By: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    Published: May 3, 2007 at 07:10

    Frequent climate fluctuations on the world’s southernmost continent have been so extreme over the past 5 million years that Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, a floating slab of ice the size of France, oscillated in size dramatically, and perhaps even disappeared for periods of time when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may have been smaller, according to scientists engaged in an unprecedented international geologic drilling project.

    Researchers with the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program, which concluded its first field season in January, say long cores of sedimentary rocks that they recovered from below the bed of the Ross Sea beneath the ice shelf allow them to peer deeply into the past to a time when Antarctica was a warmer, more inviting place.

    They were surprised, for example, to find such large volumes of fossil diatoms — microscopic single-celled algae that live in surface or shallow waters — in the cores. The presence of the fossilized one-cell creatures, some of them previously unknown to science, confirms that large areas of the Ross Ice Shelf have previously melted and were replaced with highly productive open waters.

    Studies of the cores may provide scientists with glimpses into the planet’s future if predictions of global temperature increases are accurate. Either way, they say, data from the cores will help create more accurate climate models for predicting future trends.

    “We recovered a superb, unique geologic record that scientists will be using as a benchmark for decades to come as we wrestle with trying to predict how global warming will impact the world’s oceans and our lives,” said Ross Powell, a Northern Illinois University geologist.

    Powell and Tim Naish, of New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, served as co-chief scientists for the first season of the $30-million ANDRILL Program. A second drilling operation will begin at another location next fall (during the Antarctic spring) under co-chief scientists David Harwood of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Fabio Florindo of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanlogy.

    Filled with an abundance of information about Antarctica’s ice sheet and climate history, the newly recovered rock core stretches more than a kilometer (three-quarters of a mile) in length. It tells the story of episodic changes of the Ross Ice Shelf and the ice sheets feeding it, with more than 50 oscillations in the ice margin over the last 10 million years.

    Some intervals when the ice shelf disappeared were probably during past times when our planet was 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it is today — “much like it is predicted to be in the next 50 to 100 years by many climate models,” Naish said.

    “If we’re going through this 2- to 3-degree (Celsius) warming in the next century, as has been predicted, we want to get a sense of how the ice sheet will react — and how fast it will react — by looking at what it has done in the past,” Powell added. “The world was only about 5 to 6 degrees warmer (Celsius) on average when there was no ice on the Antarctic at all. A couple degrees change can lead to quite dramatic changes across the world.”

    Antarctica New Zealand, which develops, manages and administers the country’s Antarctic activities, ran the on-ice drilling operations and logistics on behalf of the ANDRILL partner nations — the United States, New Zealand, Italy and Germany.

    The ANDRILL Science Management Office at UNL coordinated U.S. science planning. The National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, provides about $20 million in support of the $30 million (U.S.) project, which is a focal point during International Polar Year, a worldwide campaign of polar education, field research and analyses.

    “ANDRILL is one of the crown jewels of our International Polar Year portfolio,” said Thomas Wagner, program director for the U.S. Antarctic Program’s geology and geophysics program. “It embodies the spirit of IPY with its international partnerships and scientific focus on the role of Antarctica in the global system of climate.”

    At a site on the Ross Ice Shelf, ANDRILL operators melted an access hole through 85 meters (278 feet) of ice and dropped the drill bit through another 840 meters (2,755 feet) of seawater, before coring 1,285 meters (eight-tenths of a mile) below the seabed on the continental shelf.

    The core will reveal information about water temperatures and ice-sheet and ice-shelf dynamics over about the past 10 million years.

    A massive ice sheet covers Antarctica today, while ice shelves, fed by fast-flowing streams of ice within the ice sheet, are large floating bodies of ice. Ice shelves are extremely sensitive early indicators of climate change. The Ross Ice Shelf is the world’s largest ice shelf and is prone to increased melting from warming oceans. Scientists believe its demise would be an important precursor to eventual collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

    About 90 percent of the world’s ice volume is in the Antarctic. The disappearance of even its smaller West Antarctic Ice Sheet could raise worldwide sea levels by an estimated six meters (20 feet).

    “By studying the core, our scientists can tell when ice was grounded and sitting directly on the seabed, when the Ross Ice Shelf was fully over the site and floating in the water, when there was open water with icebergs, and when there were no icebergs,” Powell said. The greatest detail in the core covers a period from 1 million to 5 million years ago.

    “By integrating this critical new climate information from the core into ice sheet computer models, we should be able to say just how extensive was the loss of ice in West Antarctica during warmer times in the past,” Naish added.

    Scientists were surprised by the wealth of diatoms, which evolved rapidly and were eventually deposited on the ocean floor. The variety of diatoms, which leave behind glass-like shells that accumulate over time in layers, is a key indicator of past water temperatures. About one-third of the upper 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet) of core, which covers a time period going back roughly 5 million years, is rich in diatoms.

    It will take years for scientists, post-doctoral researchers and students from across the world to unravel the many mysteries of the core, which will be stored at Florida State University’s Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility. They are now working to correlate the new information to what was occurring in the climate in other parts of the world. Other climate records include deep-ocean geologic cores, which provide climate information from other parts of the world, and global sea-level records, which can be inferred from sedimentary deposits and erosion surfaces on continental shelves.

    ANDRILL ( is a multinational collaboration involving Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States. Funding support for ANDRILL comes from the U.S National Science Foundation, New Zealand Foundation of Research, Science, and Technology, Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund, Antarctica New Zealand, the Italian National Program for Research in Antarctica, The German Science Foundation and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research Science.

    For further information regarding science outcomes of the ANDRILL McMurdo Ice Shelf Project, contact Naish or Powell the MIS project co-chief scientists; Richard Levy MIS Project staff scientist at UNL, or the ANDRILL Science Management Office at UNL. For operations information, contact Jim Cowie or Alison Whitaker at the Operations Management Office at Antarctica New Zealand. Telephone numbers and e-mail addresses can be found at the ANDRILL Web site.


  2. As Andean glacier retreats, tiny life forms swiftly move in, CU-Boulder study shows
    Study has implications for how life might have once flourished on Mars

    A University of Colorado at Boulder team working at 16,400 feet in the Peruvian Andes has discovered how barren soils uncovered by retreating glacier ice can swiftly establish a thriving community of microbes, setting the table for lichens, mosses and alpine plants.

    The discovery is the first to reveal how microbial life becomes established and flourishes in one of the most extreme environments on Earth and has implications for how life may have once flourished on Mars, said Professor Steve Schmidt of CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. The study also provides new insights into how microorganisms are adapting to global warming in cold ecosystems on Earth.

    A paper on the subject was published online Aug. 27 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the United Kingdom’s national academy of science. Co-authors included CU-Boulder’s Sasha Reed, Diana Nemergut, Stuart Grandy, Andrew Hill, Elizabeth Costello, Allen Meyer, Jason Neff and Andrew Martin as well as the University of Montana’s Cory Cleveland and the University of Toledo’s Michael Weintraub.

    The researchers found that three species of a photosynthetic microbe known as cyanobacteria colonized the soil within the first year, either by dropping in from tiny pockets of dirt wedged in the receding glacier or blowing in as spores. Just three years later there were 20 different species of bacteria, growing by snatching gaseous forms of carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere, Schmidt said.

    “The most startling finding was how much the diversity increased in just four years in what was seemingly barren soil,” said Schmidt, whose study was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Microbial Observatories Program. The CU-Boulder team conducted their research from 2000 to 2005 on the Puca Glacier in Peru — which is receding uphill about 60 feet a year — by collecting samples and measuring soil chemistry and strength.

    In 2005, Schmidt’s group was awarded a five-year, $1.75 million NSF grant to identify and analyze a potpourri of microbes new to science residing in harsh, cold climates around the world. The team is using a novel technique that extracts DNA from the soil to pinpoint new groups of microbes and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to amplify and identify them, providing a snapshot of the microscopic diversity in high alpine regions.

    Another unexpected finding on the Puca Glacier was how microbes stabilized the soil and prevented erosion on the slope by using their filament-like structure to weave soil particles together in a matrix, Schmidt said. The CU-Boulder researchers also found the microbes excrete a glue-like sugar compound to further bond soil particles.

    In addition, they discovered that nitrogen fixation rates — the process in which nitrogen gas is converted by bacteria into compounds in the soil like ammonia and nitrate — increased by about 100-fold in the first five years. “Overall, our results indicate that photosynthetic and nitrogen-fixing bacteria play important roles in acquiring nutrients and facilitating ecological succession in soils near some of the highest-elevation receding glaciers on Earth,” wrote the team in Proceedings of the Royal Academy.

    Global climate change has accelerated the pace of glacial retreat in high latitude and high-elevation environments, exposing lands that have been devoid of vegetation for centuries or millennia, said Schmidt. He likened the high Andes to the harsh Dry Valleys of Antarctica, under study by researchers from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute because of hostile conditions believed to be similar to those on portions of Mars.

    “This kind of research should help us understand how the cold regions of Earth function, and how the biosphere will respond to future climate change,” said Schmidt. The research also could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics, as well as industrial enzymes that function at cold temperatures and could be used to drive chemical reactions normally requiring large amounts of heat, he said.

    Because of rapid climate change at high elevations, time is of the essence for researchers at CU-Boulder and elsewhere working on tiny organisms in extreme environments. “We are racing to identify new species and archive them in the laboratory before bigger changes occur and they disappear,” said Schmidt.


    For more information visit CU’s Alpine Microbial Observatory site at


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