Deep-sea coral discovery off Western Australia


This 27 February 2020 video says about itself:

Perth Canyon 4K ROV Highlights

Over the course of a month, the “Great Australian Deep-Sea Coral and Canyon Adventure” research team explored and visited never-before-seen areas of submarine canyon systems off South West Australia, including in the Perth Canyon. Watch some of the amazing scenery and beautiful animal life they encountered in this 4K highlight video.

From the Schmidt Ocean Institute:

Deep-sea coral gardens discovered in the submarine canyons off south Western Australia

February 28, 2020

Summary: Stunning ‘gardens’ of deep-sea corals have been discovered in the Bremer Canyon Marine Park by Australian and international scientists during an oceanographic expedition.

Bremer Canyon Marine Park is already known as a biodiversity hotspot for marine species such as whales and dolphins, however, a recent expedition focused on the deep sea has now revealed rich and diverse ecosystems inhabiting the cold waters deep within the canyon. Led by researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA), these discoveries were only made possible by the philanthropic Schmidt Ocean Institute’s (SOI) deep-sea remotely operated vehicle, SuBastian, which is capable of sampling depths to 4,500 meters.

The team strategically collected deep-sea corals, associated fauna, seawater, and geological samples from the abyssal depths (~4,000 meters) to the continental shelf (~200 meters). “We have already made a number of remarkable discoveries from the Bremer Canyon”, said Dr Julie Trotter, the Chief Scientist from UWA who led the expedition. “The vertical cliffs and ridges support a stunning array of deep-sea corals that often host a range of organisms and form numerous mini-ecosystems.”

These new discoveries are being integrated into a comprehensive package of biological, geological, and bathymetric data. Such rare records of these deep-sea habitats are a new and very important contribution to the Marine Parks, which will help managers as well as the broader community to better understand and protect these previously unknown ecosystems.

This 27 February 2020 video shows some of the discoveries.

The deeper waters in the three oceans that surround Australia, including the world’s largest barrier reef and submarine canyons, are largely unexplored. The expedition explored the Bremer, Leeuwin and Perth canyons, all of which have extensive fossil coral deposits, with the Leeuwin especially notable for a massive pedestal-like coral graveyard.

“This has global implications given these waters originate from around Antarctica which feed all of the major oceans and regulate our climate system”, said Professor Malcolm McCulloch from UWA.

Australia has only one oceanographic vessel available for scientific research and no supporting deep-sea underwater robots, which makes this expedition so important and rare.

Facing the Southern Ocean, the Bremer Canyon provides important information on the recent and past histories of climate change and ocean conditions in this region, as well as global scale events. Because the Southern Ocean completely encircles Antarctica, it is the main driver of the global climate engine and regulates the supply of heat and nutrient-rich waters to the major oceans. “A particular species of solitary cup coral was found during the expedition. This is significant because we are working on the same coral in the Ross Sea on the Antarctic shelf, in much colder waters,” said collaborator and co-Chief Scientist Dr Paolo Montagna from the Institute of Polar Sciences in Italy. “This is an important connection between disparate sites across the Southern Ocean, which helps us trace changes in water masses forming around Antarctica and dispersing northward into the Indian and other oceans.”

Wasps help ancient Australian rock art research


This 2012 video says about itself:

This is a short video about a few of the rock art paintings of the Bradshaw (aka Gwion Gwion) and Wandjina styles that we found in Emma Gorge on El Questro Station in Western Australia. Our video is neither a comprehensive nor professional production. Our purpose in creating it was to supplement what we wrote about it on our website, and to share the visual pleasure of the art, and our excitement in finding it.

From the University of Melbourne in Australia:

Wasp nests used to date ancient Kimberley rock art

12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberley region, Western Australia,

February 6, 2020

Mud wasp nests have helped establish a date for one of the ancient styles of Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley.

University of Melbourne and ANSTO scientists put the Gwion Gwion art period around 12,000 years old.

“This is the first time we have been able to confidently say Gwion style paintings were created around 12,000 years ago,” said PhD student Damien Finch, from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. “No one has been able to present the scientific evidence to say that before.”

One wasp nest date suggested one Gwion painting was older than 16,000 years, but the pattern of the other 23 dates is consistent with the Gwion Gwion period being 12,000 years old.

The rock paintings, more than twice as old as the Giza Pyramids, depict graceful human figures with a wide range of decorations including headdresses, armbands, and anklets. Some of the paintings are as small as 15cm, others are more than two metres high.

The details of the breakthrough are detailed in the paper 12,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art from the Kimberley region, Western Australia, now published in Science Advances.

More than 100 mud wasp nests collected from Kimberley sites, with the permission of the Traditional Owners, were crucial in identifying the age of the unique rock art.

“A painting beneath a wasp nest must be older than the nest, and a painting on top of a nest must be younger than the nest,” Mr Finch said. “If you date enough of the nests, you build up a pattern and can narrow down an age range for paintings in a particular style.”

Lack of organic matter in the pigment used to create the art had previously ruled out radiocarbon dating. But the University of Melbourne and ANSTO scientists were able to use dates on 24 mud wasp nests under and over the art to determine both maximum and minimum age constraints for paintings in the Gwion style.

The project was initiated by Professor Andy Gleadow and Professor Janet Hergt, from the School of Earth Sciences, and started in 2014 with funding from the Australian Research Council and the Kimberley Foundation. It is the first time in 20 years scientists have been able to date a range of these ancient artworks.

“The Kimberley contains some of the world’s most visually spectacular and geographically extensive records of Indigenous rock art, estimated to include tens of thousands of sites, only a small fraction of which have been studied intensively,” said Professor Gleadow.

Professor Hergt said being able to estimate the age of Gwion art is important as it can now be placed into the context of what was happening in the environment and what we know from excavations about other human activities at the same time.

Dr Vladimir Levchenko, an ANSTO expert in radiocarbon dating and co-author, said rock art is always problematic for dating because the pigment used usually does not contain carbon, the surfaces are exposed to intense weathering and nothing is known about the techniques used thousands of years ago.

“Beeswax or resin have also been used — usually on more modern samples,” Dr Levchenko said.

“Although soil is full of carbon, most of it is easily degradable. However, charcoal is more likely to survive for longer periods. There is lots of black carbon in Australian soil because of bushfires.”

Dolphins greet new born baby


This 28 July 2018 BBC video says about itself:

When a new baby dolphin is born, his family reunites around him to welcome him as one of them.

In a stunning new insight into the lives of wild dolphins, this film follows six remarkable months in the life of the ‘Beachies’: a family of six dolphins led by mother-to-be Puck, who live in the shark-infested waters of Western Australia‘s Shark Bay. Using the latest miniature cameras to eavesdrop on the Beachies’ underwater lives, this moving story follows Puck and the challenges she faces bringing up her newborn calf Samu. From learning to fish, to the ever-present threat of a shark attack, no day is ever the same. Including rarely seen footage of young dolphins and revelatory new behaviour, this is a heart-warming and emotional portrayal of one of the ocean’s most revered creatures.

How Australian coral survives cold


This video is called Giant Cabbage Coral (Turbinaria reniformis).

From the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies in Australia:

How high-latitude corals cope with the cold

Corals growing in high-latitude reefs in Western Australia can regulate their internal chemistry to promote growth under cooler temperatures

May 22, 2018

Corals growing in high-latitude reefs in Western Australia can regulate their internal chemistry to promote growth under cooler temperatures, according to new research at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at The University of Western Australia.

The study, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that ocean warming may not necessarily promote faster rates of calcification in reefs where temperatures are currently cooler (lower than 18C).

Lead author Claire Ross said the study was carried out over two years in Western Australia’s Bremer Bay, 515km south-east of Perth in the Great Southern region. Bremer Bay is a renowned diving, snorkelling and tourism hot spot due to its stunning crystal clear waters, white sand and high marine biodiversity.

“For two years we used cutting-edge geochemical techniques to link the internal chemistry of the coral with how fast the corals were growing in a high-latitude reef”, Ms Ross said.

“These high-latitude reefs (above 28 degrees north and below 28 degrees south) have lower light and temperatures compared to the tropics and essentially provide natural laboratories for investigating the limits for coral growth.”

Ms Ross said the researchers expected the corals to grow slower during winter because the water was colder and light levels lower but they were surprised to find the opposite pattern.

“We were able to link the remarkable capacity for temperate corals to maintain high growth during winter to the regulation of their internal chemistry,” she said.

“We also found that there was more food in the water for corals during winter compared to summer, indicating that (in addition to internal chemical regulation) corals may feed more to sustain growth.”

Coral reefs are one of world’s most valuable natural resources, providing a habitat for many ocean species, shoreline protection from waves and storms, as well as being economically important for tourism and fisheries.

However, studies have shown that the important process by which corals build their skeletons is under threat due to CO2-driven climate change. The effects of climate change on coral reefs are likely to vary geographically, but relatively little is known about the growth rates of reefs outside of the tropics.

“Our study is unique because it is among the first to fully decipher the corals’ internal chemistry”, Ms Ross said. “The findings of this study help better understand and predict the future of high-latitude coral reefs under CO2-driven climate change.”

Black-footed tree rat rediscovery in Australia


Black-footed tree rat, by John Gould

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation today:

Black-footed tree rat rediscovered in Kimberley after three-decade absence

The black-footed tree rat has been rediscovered in Western Australia‘s north 30 years after it was last seen.

Parks and Wildlife staff on a monitoring expedition to the Bachsten Creek in the remote north-west Kimberley caught a glimpse of what appeared to be one of the native rats last year.

To confirm its existence, they installed a dozen remote cameras in the bushland over the wet season.

Parks and Wildlife Service ecologist Ben Corey said the cameras were collected after eight months in the field.

“Many species, such as the endangered northern quoll and golden-backed tree rat, as well as sugar gliders and scaly-tailed possums were recorded,” he said.

“However, the biggest surprise was photographic evidence of the black-footed tree rat.

“We were a bit unsure at first, we tried to explain it away and said ‘no, it can’t be, it can’t be, it’s got to be this or it’s got to be that’ but the images speak for themselves which was really exciting.

“It had not been seen in the Kimberley since 1987, despite considerable survey efforts during this period.”

Python poo provides further proof

The black-footed tree rat is a large tree-dwelling rodent with distinctive black feet and a long black and white tail.

It was thought to have died out in the region due to large bushfires and human activity.

Mr Corey said another unexpected record of the species came from the identification of hair in python scat [faeces] which was found in a nest box at one of the monitoring sites.

The department said the north Kimberley was recognised as a stronghold for species that were now extinct across the northern regions of Australia.

It said each year, researchers from the department survey mammals in more than 100 locations across the north Kimberley.

Origin of life on land, not in the sea?


This video says about itself:

2 May 2017

3.5 billion year old fossils hint life evolved in pond, not sea

It’s the age-old question: where do we come from? New fossil evidence suggests the first spark of life may have occurred in a hot spring on land rather than a hydrothermal vent in the deep sea.

Charles Darwin proposed in 1871 that life originated in a “warm little pond”. But the dominant theory nowadays is that primitive microorganisms first assembled in hot, chemical-rich water at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.

One reason for favouring this marine model is that fossil evidence of early land-based microbial life has been lacking. Until recently, the oldest evidence of life on land was only 2.8 billion years old, whereas the oldest evidence from the sea was 3.7 billion years old.

Now, a team led by Tara Djokic at the University of New South Wales in Australia has discovered fossils of land-based microorganisms. They were found in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks in an extinct volcano in the Dresser Formation in the hot, dry, remote Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The fossils include stromatolites – layered rock structures created by microorganisms – and circular holes left in the rock by gas bubbles that look like they were once trapped by sticky microbial substances. Both types of structures are preserved in geyserite, a type of rock that is only found in and around freshwater hot springs in volcanic areas on land.

Land-based launch pad?

The findings suggest that microbes were present on land and in the ocean around the same time, says Djokic. The question is – which came first?

“There are now a number of converging lines of evidence that point to terrestrial hot springs over hydrothermal vents for the origin of life,” says Djokic.

Small bodies of water like hot springs may have been more conducive to the formation of life because they can evaporate and concentrate the building blocks of life, says Djokic. “In hot springs, you’ve also got a nutritious concoction of elements because hot fluids circulate through the underlying rocks and bring up different minerals,” she says.

Recent research suggests that the element mix in ancient hot springs would have been more likely to give rise to life than that of deep sea vents.

Primitive microorganisms formed in the springs could have then spread to the sea, where they could have adapted and continued to evolve, Djokic says.

The findings are compelling, says Gregory Webb at the University of Queensland in Australia. “There are lots of microbes that live in terrestrial hot springs today, so it’s not a stretch to believe that an ancient hot spring could have accommodated life,” he says.

Then again, making assertions about life on early Earth is tricky, says Webb. “Microbial life isn’t easy to see, even today, so rocks that preserve evidence of ancient bacteria are hard to find and hard to study.” He is not ruling out the deep sea model of the origin of life.

Ancient life on Mars

Djokic and her colleagues believe the research could have implications for the search for ancient life on Mars. Earth and Mars both formed around 4.5 billion years ago and had volcanoes and hot springs dotted across their surfaces.

“If life can be preserved in hot springs so far back in Earth’s history, then there is a good chance it could be preserved in Martian hot springs too,” says Djokic.

One of the three potential landing sites for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission is Columbia Hills, a rocky formation that is thought to have once been a hot spring environment.

From the University of California – Santa Cruz in the USA:

Did life begin on land rather than in the sea?

A paradigm-shifting hypothesis could reshape our idea about the origin of life

July 18, 2017

Summary: A new discovery pushes back the time for the emergence of microbial life on land by 580 million years and also bolsters a paradigm-shifting hypothesis that life began, not in the sea, but on land.

For three years, Tara Djokic, a Ph.D. student at the University of New South Wales Sydney, scoured the forbidding landscape of the Pilbara region of Western Australia looking for clues to how ancient microbes could have produced the abundant stromatolites that were discovered there in the 1970s.

Stromatolites are round, multilayered mineral structures that range from the size of golf balls to weather balloons and represent the oldest evidence that there were living organisms on Earth 3.5 billion years ago.

Scientists who believed life began in the ocean thought these mineral formations had formed in shallow, salty seawater, just like living stromatolites in the World Heritage-listed area of Shark Bay, which is a two-day drive from the Pilbara.

But what Djokic discovered amid the strangling heat and blood-red rocks of the region was evidence that the stromatolites had not formed in salt water but instead in conditions more like the hot springs of Yellowstone.

The discovery pushed back the time for the emergence of microbial life on land by 580 million years and also bolstered a paradigm-shifting hypothesis laid out by UC Santa Cruz astrobiologists David Deamer and Bruce Damer: that life began, not in the sea, but on land.

Djokic’s discovery — together with research carried out by the UC Santa Cruz team, Djokic, and Martin Van Kranendonk, director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology — is described in an eight-page cover story in the August issue of Scientific American.

“What she (Djokic) showed was that the oldest fossil evidence for life was in fresh water,” said Deamer, a lanky 78-year-old who explored the region with Djokic, Damer, and Van Kranendonk in 2015. “It’s a logical continuation to life beginning in a freshwater environment.”

The model for life beginning on land rather than in the sea could not only reshape our idea about the origin of life and where else it might be, but even change the way we view ourselves.

The right conditions for life

For four decades, ever since the research vessel Alvin discovered deep-sea hydrothermal vents that were habitats for specialized bacteria and worms that looked like something out of a science-fiction novel, scientists have theorized that these mineral- and gas-pumping vents were just what was needed for life to begin.

But Deamer, who describes himself as a scientist who loves playing with new ideas, thought the theory had flaws. For instance, molecules essential for the origin of life would be dispersed too quickly into a vast ocean, he thought, and salty seawater would inhibit some of the processes he knew are necessary for life to begin.

Deamer had spent the early part of his career studying the biophysics of membranes composed of soap-like molecules that form the microscopic boundaries of all living cells. Later, given a piece of the Murchison meteorite that had landed in Australia in 1969, Deamer found that the space rock also contained soap-like molecules nearly 5 billion years old that could form stable membranes. Still later, he demonstrated that membranes helped small molecules join together to form longer information-carrying molecules called polymers.

Trekking to volcanoes from Russia to Iceland and hiking through the Pilbara desert, Deamer and his colleagues observed volcanic activity that suggested the idea that hot springs provided the right environment for the beginning of life. Deamer even built a machine that simulated the heat, acidity, and wet-and-dry cycles of hot springs and installed it in his lab on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

“I think, every once in awhile, you have to be brave enough and bold enough to try new ideas,” Deamer said. “Of course, some of my colleagues think even ‘foolish enough.’ But that’s the chance you take.”

Rethinking the timeline

In Deamer’s vision, ancient Earth consisted of a huge ocean spotted with volcanic land masses. Rain would fall on the land, creating pools of fresh water that would be heated by geothermal energy and then cooled by runoff. Some of the key building blocks of life, created during the formation of our solar system, would have fallen to Earth and gathered in these pools, becoming concentrated enough to form more complex organic compounds.

The edges of the pools would go through periods of wetting and drying as water levels rose and fell. During these periods of wet and dry, lipid membranes would first help stitch together the organic compounds called polymers and then form compartments that encapsulated different sets of these polymers. The membranes would act like incubators for the functions of life.

Deamer and his team believe the first life emerged from the natural production of vast numbers of such membrane-encased “protocells.”

While there is still debate about whether life began on land or in the sea, the discovery of ancient microbial fossils in a place like the Pilbara shows that these geothermal areas — full of energy and rich in the minerals necessary for life — harbored living microorganisms far earlier than believed.

The search for life on other planets

According to Deamer and his colleagues, this discovery and their hot-springs-origins model also have implications for the search for life on other planets. If life began on land, then Mars, which was found to have a 3.65-billion-year-old hot spring deposits similar to those found in the Pilbara region of Australia, might be a good place to look.

For Damer, the new “end-to-end hypothesis” of how life began on land offers something else: that the origin of life was not just a simple story of individual, competing cells. Rather that a plausible new vision of life’s start could be a communal unit of protocells that survived and evolved through collaboration and sharing of innovation rather than strict competition.

“That,” he said, “is a fundamental shift that might impact how we think of our world, ourselves, and our future: as dependent on collaboration as much as being driven by competition.”

Sitting in his fourth-floor office on campus, Deamer smiled as he recounted the letter Charles Darwin wrote to a friend in 1871, which speculated that life might have begun in “some warm little pond.”

That’s not far off the mark, Deamer said, “except we call ours ‘hot little puddles.'”

Conventional scientific wisdom has it that plants and other creatures have only lived on land for about 500 million years, but a new study is pointing to evidence for life on land that is four times as old — at 2.2 billion years ago and almost half way back to the inception of the planet: here.

The earliest example of an organism living on land — an early type of fungus — has been identified. The organism, from 440 million years ago, likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation, which encouraged the later growth and diversification of life on land: here.

A team of Tasmanian researchers has uncovered rare, living stromatolites deep within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area: here.

Western Australia’s famous 3.5-billion-year-old stromatolites contain microbial remains of some of the earliest life on Earth, scientists have found: here.

Earth could have supported continental crust, life earlier than thought. Scientists studying ancient rocks say crust could have formed when Earth was just 350 million years old: here.

All living things use the genetic code to “translate” DNA-based genetic information into proteins, which are the main working molecules in cells. Precisely how the complex process of translation arose in the earliest stages of life on Earth more than four billion years ago has long been mysterious, but two theoretical biologists have now made a significant advance in resolving this mystery: here.

Hydroplaning dolphins in Australia


This video says about itself:

Hydroplaning Dolphins – Planet Earth – BBC Earth

2 May 2017

These remarkable Dolphins in Western Australia display incredible ingenuity when hunting for fish in the shallows. With little room for error, it would appear fortune does indeed favour the brave.