Plesiosaur fossil discovery in Antarctica

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Scientists discover a 150 million years old plesiosaur in Antarctica

21 December 2017

It is the first record of a plesiosaur from the Jurassic period in Antarctica. It is a carnivorous reptile of the sea that exceeded six meters in length. It was discovered in the Antarctic Peninsula, in a new paleontological site located 113 kilometers southwest of the Marambio Base in Seymour Island.

From AFP news agency:

Giant marine reptile lived in Antarctic 150 million years ago

December 22, 2017

Scientists in Argentina have found the remains of a giant carnivorous marine reptile, or plesiosaur, that lived 150 million years ago in Antarctica.

The four-finned reptile, which measured up to 12 meters (13 yards) long, dates from the late Jurassic period …

Soledad Cavalli, a paleontologist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, said: “At this site, you can find a great diversity of fish, ammonites, some bivalves, but we did not expect to find such an ancient plesiosaur.”

The “surprising” discovery has never been documented, according to a statement from the National University of La Matanza, near Buenos Aires.

“The discovery is pretty extraordinary, because the rock types at the site weren’t thought conducive to the preservation of bones, like the vertebrae of this marine reptile”, Cavalli said.

The discovery site was a two-hour helicopter journey from Argentina’s Marambio Base on the tip of Antarctica, with the researchers set to continue their work in January, during the southern hemisphere’s summer.

Marcelo Reguero of the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) added that Antarctica was at the time part of the Gondwana continent, which also included Australia, New Zealand, India, Madagascar, Africa and South America, before continental drift pushed them apart.


Filming Antarctic wildlife

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23 November 2017

Antarctica and its wildlife look beautiful in Blue Planet II but how did the team work in such a challenging environment?

Emperor penguin chicks video

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[Emperor] Penguin Chicks Struggle To Survive – Planet Earth – BBC Earth

22 May 2017

The urge for Penguins to parent their chicks is incredibly strong, and in this footage we are given a wonderful insight into the role both parents play in raising their young. Braving the severe conditions of Antarctica poses a huge obstacle, so if the chicks are to survive until summer it will be thanks to the extraordinary hardships endured by their parents.


Antarctic Adélie penguins, new count

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14 March 2017

Scientists have their best estimate yet of how many Adélie penguins live in East Antarctica, numbering almost six million, 3.6 million more than previously estimated.

Read more about this here.


Noisy dinosaur age bird discovered in Antarctic

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Discovery of fossil “voice box” of Antarctic bird suggests dinosaurs couldn’t sing

2 October 2016

Researchers have found the oldest known fossil vocal organ of a bird … in Antarctica. The voice box is from a species related to ducks and geese that lived during the age of dinosaurs more than 66 million years ago. A National Science Foundation funded team led by the University of Texas at Austin discovered the ancient vocal organ called a syrinx–and its apparent absence from non-bird dinosaur fossils of the same age. Researchers believe the organ may have originated late in the evolution of birds after the origin of flight. Drawing on their research, team leader Julia Clarke said that other dinosaurs may not have been able to make noises similar to modern bird calls, but most likely made closed-mouth sounds similar to ostrich booms that don’t require a syrinx.

The organ was found in a fossil species called Vegavis iaai. The fossil was discovered in 1992 on Vega Island in the Antarctic Peninsula by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute. It was named in 2005 by Clarke and Argentine colleagues. But, it wasn’t until 2013 Clarke discovered the fossil syrinx in the new specimen and began analysis. The international team may figure out what dinosaurs sounded like, gaining insight into the origins of bird song. The findings appear in the October 12 issue of “Nature”.

See also here.

From Science News:

Birds’ honks filled Late Cretaceous air

Sounds inferred from oldest preserved avian voice box

By Meghan Rosen

3:53pm, October 12, 2016

ANCIENT VOICE BOX: A ducklike bird that lived some 68 million to 66 million years ago left behind fossilized remains of a voice box, or syrinx, on an island off the coast of Antarctica.

Some ancient birds may have sounded like honking ducks.

For the first time, scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a voice box from the age of the dinosaurs. The sound-making structure, called a syrinx, belonged to Vegavis iaai, a bird that lived 68 million to 66 million years ago, researchers report October 12 in Nature.

“It may be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” says evolutionary biologist Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University in Athens, who wrote a commentary in Nature about the fossil. Now, he says, the hunt will be on to find voice boxes in other fossils.

The new work helps fill in the soundscape of the Late Cretaceous Epoch. It could also offer hints about sounds made by all sorts of dinosaurs, says study coauthor Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin.

Unlike in humans, where the larynx lies below the throat, birds’ voice boxes rest inside the chest at the base of the windpipe. Stacked rings of cartilage anchor vibrating membranes that make sound when air whooshes through.

This delicate structure doesn’t typically fossilize. In fact, scientists have previously spotted just a few syrinxes in the fossil record. The oldest known, from a wading bird, was about 50 million years old. Clarke’s team examined that syrinx, which hadn’t been studied before, and the one from V. iaai.

The V. iaai fossil, a partial skeleton discovered on an island off the coast of Antarctica, was removed from a rock about the size of a cantaloupe, Clarke says. Just one small area remained encased in rocky material. Everyone thought that bit was trivial, she says. But “it was within that tiny little section that I saw the syrinx.” Three-dimensional CT scans let her peer within the rock and see the telltale rings of a voice box, a structure roughly half the size of a multivitamin pill. “It was one of the biggest, happiest days of my career,” Clarke says.

Biologist Philip Senter of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, who was not involved in the study, echoes Clarke’s enthusiasm. “It’s quite exciting to find such a rarely preserved structure,” he says. Seeing it in 3-D will make paleontologists “chortle joyously.”

Comparing the fossil with living birds helped Clarke and her team figure out what sounds the ancient bird might have made. Both the bird’s skeleton and its syrinx suggest it squawked like today’s ducks and geese.

The find also proves that voice boxes from dinosaurs’ time can indeed fossilize. No one has found the structures in nonavian dinosaurs, Clarke says. “That suggests that most dinosaurs may not have had a syrinx.”

Instead, she proposes, dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Stegosaurus might have made noises like crocodiles: deep “booming” sounds generated in the back of the mouth.


Arctic tern’s new world migration record

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13 February 2013

We went to Antarctica to see the penguins, and we certainly did. But we saw so much more wildlife: orcas and elephant seals and leopard seals and many different seabirds. My favorite is the Arctic tern, a little bird that migrates farther every year than any other in the world… from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and back – 20,000 miles every year.

The video features, eg, gentoo penguins and blue-eyed cormorants.

I was privileged to see a wintering Arctic tern in the Antarctic as well.

From Zeenews:

Record-breaking! Arctic Tern makes longest annual migration, covers 59,650 miles

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 – 12:27

An Arctic Tern, one of the smallest sea-birds, made the longest ever annual migration between July 25th, 2015 to May 4th, 2016, covering a distance of 59,650 miles from their North-East [England; Farne islands] homes, according to The Guardian reports.

For the first time, scientists at Newcastle University in collaboration with BBC’s Springwatch have mapped the annual migration of Arctic Terns from Northumberland to Antarctica and back with the help of electronic tags fitted on their bodies.

Scientists revealed that the total distance covered by the tiny bird in its meandering journey is more than twice the circumference of the our home planet.

The bird, which weighs just 100g, left its breeding grounds last July and flew down the west coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and arrived in Antarctica in November.

The previous record of 56,545 miles was also held by an Arctic Tern, who covered this distance on its polar flight from the Netherlands.


Waterbear revives after thirty years frost

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15 January 2016

Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research said its scientists had succeeded in reviving a microscopic animal known as a tardigrade, collected more than 30 years ago in Antarctica and kept frozen ever since.

From the BBC:

Japan: ‘Water bear‘ reproduces after 30 years on ice

15 January 2016

Scientists in Japan say a microscopic creature called a tardigrade successfully reproduced after being frozen for more than 30 years.

Researchers at the National Institute of Polar Research in Tokyo defrosted and revived two of the tiny animals, which are also known as water bears, from a batch collected in the Antarctic in 1983, The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports. While one tardigrade died after 20 days, the other began reproducing. It laid 19 eggs, of which 14 hatched successfully.

It marks a new record for the creatures – previously the longest survival rate recorded was nine years, The Mainichi newspaper notes. The study took place in 2014, but the results were published on Thursday.

Scientists are hoping to discover how tardigrades are able to survive hostile conditions for so long. “We want to unravel the mechanism for long-term survival by looking into damage to tardigrades’ DNA and their ability to repair it,” researcher Megumu Tsujimoto tells The Asahi Shimbun.

Tardigrades are often referred to as water bears because of their chunky bodies and bear-like claws. Despite their miniscule size, they are by all accounts one of the hardiest creatures on earth, surviving extreme heat, radiation and even a trip into space. They are able to slow down their metabolism until it practically stops, a process known as cryptobiosis, which enables them to withstand freezing.