Coral discovery in Great Barrier Reef


This 25 October 2020 video says about itself:

Join RV Falkor as we conduct ROV SuBastian’s 401st dive on a newly discovered 500 m tall reef.

This is the ninth dive of the ‘Northern Depths of the Great Barrier Reef’ expedition.

Today we are exploring this 500 m tall ‘detached’ reef, one of seven other detached reefs offshore of Cape York Peninsula, which lie upon a ~500 m deep ledge extending out from below the Great Barrier Reef shelf. The dive will cross the broader base, then climb the steep flanks of the reef to the summit at about 50 m depth – an underwater mountain climb to find out what is living on this newly discovered reef.

From the Schmidt Ocean Institute:

Scientists have discovered a massive detached coral reef in the Great Barrier Reef — the first to be discovered in over 120 years, Schmidt Ocean Institute announced. Measuring more than 500 meters high — taller than the Empire State Building, the Sydney Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers — the reef was discovered by Australian scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, currently on a 12-month exploration of the ocean surrounding Australia.

The reef was first found on Oct. 20, as a team of scientists led by Dr. Robin Beaman from James Cook University was conducting underwater mapping of the northern Great Barrier Reef seafloor. The team then conducted a dive on Oct. 25 using Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot SuBastian to explore the new reef. The dive was live-streamed, with the high-resolution footage viewed for the first time and broadcast on Schmidt Ocean Institute’s website and YouTube channel.

The base of the blade-like reef is 1.5km-wide, then rises 500m to its shallowest depth of only 40m below the sea surface. This newly discovered detached reef adds to the seven other tall detached reefs in the area, mapped since the late 1800s, including the reef at Raine Island — the world’s most important green sea turtle nesting area.

“This unexpected discovery affirms that we continue to find unknown structures and new species in our Ocean,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “The state of our knowledge about what’s in the Ocean has long been so limited. Thanks to new technologies that work as our eyes, ears and hands in the deep ocean, we have the capacity to explore like never before. New oceanscapes are opening to us, revealing the ecosystems and diverse life forms that share the planet with us.”

“We are surprised and elated by what we have found,” said Dr. Beaman. “To not only 3D map the reef in detail, but also visually see this discovery with SuBastian is incredible. This has only been made possible by the commitment of Schmidt Ocean Institute to grant ship time to Australia’s scientists.”

The discovery of this new coral reef adds to a year of underwater discoveries by Schmidt Ocean Institute. In April, scientists discovered the longest recorded sea creature — a 45m siphonophore in Ningaloo Canyon, plus up to 30 new species. In August, scientists discovered five undescribed species of black coral and sponges and recorded Australia’s first observation of rare scorpionfish in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks. And the year started with the discovery in February of deep sea coral gardens and graveyards in Bremer Canyon Marine Park.

“To find a new half-a-kilometer tall reef in the offshore Cape York area of the well-recognized Great Barrier Reef shows how mysterious the world is just beyond our coastline,” said Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of Schmidt Ocean Institute. “This powerful combination of mapping data and underwater imagery will be used to understand this new reef and its role within the incredible Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”

The Northern depths of the Great Barrier Reef voyage will continue until Nov. 17 as part of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s broader year-long Australia campaign. The maps created will be available through AusSeabed, a national Australian seabed mapping program, and will also contribute to the Nippon Foundation GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

Free imprisoned Israeli anti-militarist woman, protest today


This 22 October 2020 video from Israel says about itself:

Hallel Rabin – I Refuse

Hallel Rabin, a conscientious objector, spent two terms in Prison 6

That military prison is near Atlit, on Oren Junction.

for refusing to serve in the army. A few days before returning to the ICRC to refuse for a third time, she was interviewed by Social TV and justified her decision to refuse in public, after the IDF Conscience Committee was not persuaded to dismiss her.

For more interviews with other Israelis who refuse military service in Israel: here.

From Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom today:

Stand with Conscientious objector Hallel Rabin – demonstration at the Israeli Army’s Military Prison 6

Conscientious objector Hallel Rabin was sent to the military prison because of her refusal to join an army of occupation which oppresses the Palestinians.

She has asked – and fully deserves – for public support for her struggle.

The army’s method of dealing with refusers and conscientious objectors (male or female alike) is incremental sentences of a month at a time,

After each term the objector is again ordered to enlist, refuses again and is sent again to prison.

Hallel Rabin is now undergoing the third such one-month term, and many more can follow.

Using this method enables the army to avoid a court-martial which would be held in public and where the defendant can be represented by a lawyer and call witnesses.

Instead, the cumulative one-month terms are issued at “instant trials” held in camera at an officer’s bureau and lasting about five minutes.

‘Mesarvot’ and ‘Yesh Gvul’ invite the public to attend a protest vigil in support of Hallel and decrying her incarceration,

Today, Saturday October 31st, 2020 at 12:30

On the mountainside facing Military Prison 6, from where protesters are visible – and audible – to prisoners (and to their guards).

For those coming from the Tel-Aviv/Gush-Dan or Jerusalem areas, transportation is available; register here.

Contact: Yishai Menuchin +972-(0)54-3355373 +972-(0) 54-4860050.

Giant prehistoric seabirds discovery in Antarctica


This 2016 video says about itself:

How the Largest Flying Bird of All Time Stayed Airborne

With a 24-foot wingspan, how did the prehistoric Pelagornis sandersi, the largest known flying bird of all time, manage to fly so well? It relied on two key factors: a light frame and an ability to soar with the ocean currents.

From the University of California – Berkeley in the USA:

Antarctica yields oldest fossils of giant birds with 21-foot wingspans

Two fossils from a group of extinct seabirds represent the largest individuals ever found

October 27, 2020

Summary: Some of the largest birds in history, called pelagornithids, arose a few million years after the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs and patrolled the oceans with giant wingspans for some 60 million years. A team of paleontologists has found two fossils — each from individual pelagornithids with wingspans of 20 feet or more — that show this gigantism arose at least 50 million years ago and lasted at least 10 million years.

Fossils recovered from Antarctica in the 1980s represent the oldest giant members of an extinct group of birds that patrolled the southern oceans with wingspans of up to 21 feet that would dwarf the 11½-foot wingspan of today’s largest bird, the wandering albatross.

Called pelagornithids, the birds filled a niche much like that of today’s albatrosses and traveled widely over Earth’s oceans for at least 60 million years. Though a much smaller pelagornithid fossil dates from 62 million years ago, one of the newly described fossils — a 50 million-year-old portion of a bird’s foot — shows that the larger pelagornithids arose just after life rebounded from the mass extinction 65 million years ago, when the relatives of birds, the dinosaurs, went extinct. A second pelagornithid fossil, part of a jaw bone, dates from about 40 million years ago.

“Our fossil discovery, with its estimate of a 5-to-6-meter wingspan — nearly 20 feet — shows that birds evolved to a truly gigantic size relatively quickly after the extinction of the dinosaurs and ruled over the oceans for millions of years,” said Peter Kloess, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

The last known pelagornithid is from 2.5 million years ago, a time of changing climate as Earth cooled, and the ice ages began.

Kloess is the lead author of a paper describing the fossil that appears this week in the open-access journal Scientific Reports. His co-authors are Ashley Poust of the San Diego Natural History Museum and Thomas Stidham of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Both Poust and Stidham received their Ph.Ds from UC Berkeley.

Birds with pseudoteeth

Pelagornithids are known as ‘bony-toothed’ birds because of the bony projections, or struts, on their jaws that resemble sharp-pointed teeth, though they are not true teeth, like those of humans and other mammals. The bony protrusions were covered by a horny material, keratin, which is like our fingernails. Called pseudoteeth, the struts helped the birds snag squid and fish from the sea as they soared for perhaps weeks at a time over much of Earth’s oceans.

Large flying animals have periodically appeared on Earth, starting with the pterosaurs that flapped their leathery wings during the dinosaur era and reached wingspans of 33 feet. The pelagornithids came along to claim the wingspan record in the Cenozoic, after the mass extinction, and lived until about 2.5 million years ago. Around that same time, teratorns, now extinct, ruled the skies.

The birds, related to vultures, “evolved wingspans close to what we see in these bony-toothed birds (pelagornithids),” said Poust. “However, in terms of time, teratorns come in second place with their giant size, having evolved 40 million years after these pelagornithids lived. The extreme, giant size of these extinct birds is unsurpassed in ocean habitats.”

The fossils that the paleontologists describe are among many collected in the mid-1980s from Seymour Island, off the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, by teams led by UC Riverside paleontologists. These finds were subsequently moved to the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley.

Kloess stumbled across the specimens while poking around the collections as a newly arrived graduate student in 2015. He had obtained his master’s degree from Cal State-Fullerton with a thesis on coastal marine birds of the Miocene era, between 17 million and 5 million years ago, that was based on specimens he found in museum collections, including those in the UCMP.

“I love going to collections and just finding treasures there,” he said. “Somebody has called me a museum rat, and I take that as a badge of honor. I love scurrying around, finding things that people overlook.”

Reviewing the original notes by former UC Riverside student Judd Case, now a professor at Eastern Washington University near Spokane, Kloess realized that the fossil foot bone — a so-called tarsometatarsus — came from an older geological formation than originally thought. That meant that the fossil was about 50 million years old instead of 40 million years old. It is the largest specimen known for the entire extinct group of pelagornithids.

The other rediscovered fossil, the middle portion of the lower jaw, has parts of its pseudoteeth preserved; they would have been up to 3 cm (1 inch) tall when the bird was alive. The approximately 12-cm (5-inch-) long preserved section of jaw came from a very large skull that would have been up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Using measurements of the size and spacing of those teeth and analytical comparisons to other fossils of pelagornithids, the authors are able to show that this fragment came from an individual bird as big, if not bigger, than the largest known skeletons of the bony-toothed bird group.

A warm Antarctica was a bird playground

Fifty million years ago, Antarctica had a much warmer climate during the time known as the Eocene and was not the forbidding, icy continent we know today, Stidham noted. Alongside extinct land mammals, like marsupials and distant relatives of sloths and anteaters, a diversity of Antarctic birds occupied the land, sea and air.

The southern oceans were the playground for early penguin species, as well as extinct relatives of living ducks, ostriches, petrels and other bird groups, many of which lived on the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. The new research documents that these extinct, predatory, large- and giant-sized bony-toothed birds were part of the Antarctic ecosystem for over 10 million years, flying side-by-side over the heads of swimming penguins.

“In a lifestyle likely similar to living albatrosses, the giant extinct pelagornithids, with their very long-pointed wings, would have flown widely over the ancient open seas, which had yet to be dominated by whales and seals, in search of squid, fish and other seafood to catch with their beaks lined with sharp pseudoteeth,” said Stidham. “The big ones are nearly twice the size of albatrosses, and these bony-toothed birds would have been formidable predators that evolved to be at the top of their ecosystem.”

Museum collections like those in the UCMP, and the people like Kloess, Poust and Stidham to mine them, are key to reconstructing these ancient habitats.

“Collections are vastly important, so making discoveries like this pelagornithid wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have these specimens in the public trust, whether at UC Riverside or now at Berkeley,” Kloess said. “The fact that they exist for researchers to look at and study has incredible value.”