Largest Dinosaur Footprint Found + Atmosphere and Human Survival

Posted on 29 Mar 2017

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This photo shows an outline of what is being called the world’s largest dinosaur footprint. It was found in the Walmadany area of the Dampier peninsula in Western Australia. The illustration shows how big a dinosaur would have to be to make the footprint.

Scientists have found what could be the world’s largest dinosaur footprint – measuring nearly 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) – on a remote part of Australia’s northwestern coastline. The footprint from a giant sauropod dinosaur was among 21 types of tracks found on the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia, 130 km (80 miles) from the beach resort town of Broome.

“They are bigger than anything that has been recorded anywhere in the world,” said Steve Salisbury, the lead author of a joint study by the University of Queensland and James Cook University.

Sauropods were four-legged plant-eaters with long necks and tails, pillar-like legs and immense bodies. Sauropod footprints measuring 1.2 metres (4 feet) were found in Germany in 2015.

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This print is just one of thousands there. The area was recently saved from destruction which would have resulted if the Western Australian government had it’s way. 

The thousands of dinosaur footprints found at Walmadany in Australia’s Kimberley region come from at least 21 Cretaceous species, a comprehensive study has revealed. Some of these, at 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) long, are candidates for the largest footprints (ever) found. The collection is unparalleled in the world in diversity recorded at a single site, …

“It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the Early Cretaceous Period,” Dr Salisbury said in a statement. “It’s such a magical place –Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting.” …
The geochemistry of the rocks, great for forming prints, was poor for fossilizing bones and teeth. We have no other records of the dinosaurs that made these prints, either at Walmadany or elsewhere in WA. Some of what has been found resembles tracks seen on other continents, but other prints appear to be from entirely unknown species. …

The company proposing the gas processing plant dropped the idea in 2013, but the Western Australian government continued trying to acquire the area in the hope of using it for industrial development in future. Salisbury’s work, in combination with a recent change of government, could see the area protected forever, although rising sea levels may make some prints even harder to study.

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The area was eventually awarded National Heritage status in 2011 and the gas project subsequently collapsed.
Salisbury said: “There are thousands of tracks around Walmadany. Of these, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs.
“There were five different types of predatory dinosaur tracks, at least six types of tracks from long-necked herbivorous sauropods, four types of tracks from two-legged herbivorous ornithopods, and six types of tracks from armoured dinosaurs.”
Most of Australia’s dinosaur fossils have previously come from the eastern side of the vast country.

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At this point there are countless dinosaur bones and prints found all over the planet, including over 3,000 complete skeletons, fossilized eggs, and even protein (amino acid) sequences from iron preserved dinosaur soft tissue.

There are currently about 3,000 so-called “full” dinosaur specimens—complete or near-complete skeletons or just a complete or near-complete skull—in museums around the United States. Scientists estimate that there are at least triple this number as yet uncollected around the globe. It’s hard to say how long it will take to track these down. But currently we’re discovering new full specimens at a rate of about 14 per year. 

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Using fossil evidence, paleontologists have identified over 500 distinct genera and more than 1,000 different species of non-avian dinosaurs. … 

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Dinosaurs were real, they went extinct, and so can we. Here’s one of the biggest dinosaur bones found:

For those who say the devil put false bones in the earth to confuse people about the Bible, (really?) here are some dinosaur eggs and skeletons:

I enjoyed this response to the idea of a devil planting fake news.

The idea that the devil put the “them thar dino bones” anywhere to fool us is both a scientific and religious heresy. 

From a scientific point of view, it is sheer foolishness. We’re able to (use) our brains to realize that trickling water will eventually mineralize bones that are buried in just the right way, and that if we find bones in the ground that are similar in many ways to the anatomy of living creatures today, is because they do in fact represent the remains of such creatures. Nobody can fake this, neither by supernatural or natural means. 

From a religious point of view, the idea that the devil has so much power that he can actually change the geology of the Earth worldwide to trump up a false paleontological record is a heresy. This error is called “Manicheeism” – a heresy that views the world as equally split between equally powerful good and bad beings (i.e. the devil, as God’s “evil equal.”) 

How do you know if you find a dinosaur egg? 

Fossil dinosaur eggshell fragments can be recognized based on three important traits. Their thickness should be roughly uniform, they are usually slightly curved, and their surface is covered in tiny pores. Less frequently, the concave underside of the eggshell fragment will preserve bumps known as mammillae. Sometimes the embryo had absorbed so much of the calcium that the mammilae need a magnifying glass or microscope to be seen. However, there are many kinds of naturally occurring objects which can resemble fossil eggs. These can fool even professional paleontologists. 

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The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is increasing. It could reach a new modern record of 410 ppm this month, more than humans have ever encountered. Keep track yourself here if you like.

The reality is that 30 monitoring stations exceeded daily readings of 410 ppm by June, 2016. The locations marked with yellow stars below are those who passed that point by that month.

Some calculations show that CO2 levels were 5 times greater than today in the age of dinosaurs 250 million years ago. Could modern humans breathe the same air they did, 2,050 ppm CO2, and live? Perhaps.

The U.S. EPA CO2 exposure limits: The U.S. EPA recommends a maximum concentration of Carbon dioxide CO2 of 1,000 ppm (0.1%) for continuous exposure. …  The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA, has set Permissible Exposure Limits for Carbon Dioxide in workplace …

OSHA recommends a lowest oxygen concentration of 19.5% in the work place for a full work-shift exposure. As we calculated above, for the indoor workplace oxygen level to reach 19.5% (down from its normal 20.9% oxygen level in outdoor air) by displacement of oxygen by CO2, that is, to reduce the oxygen level by about 6%, the CO2 or carbon dioxide level would have to increase to about 1.4% 14,000 ppm.

In summary, … exposure standards are 0.5% CO2 (5,000 ppm) averaged over a 40 hour week, 3% (3,000 ppm) average for a short-term (15 minute) exposure, and 4% (40,000 ppm) as the maximum instantaneous limit considered immediately dangerous to life and health.

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… consider: we would die if we did not breathe in such a way as to retain very close to 65,000 ppm (6.5%) of CO2 in the alveoli (tiny air sacs) of our lungs.

And finally, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) reports that 100,000 ppm (10%) of CO2 is the atmospheric concentration immediately dangerous to life.

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If the CO2 and other greenhouse gasses trap too much sunlight, the earth warms up. A concern is not just that sea level rises (it has risen 6.7 inches in the last 100 years, and the rate of rise is accelerating) and/or that it gets so hot that we have trouble living above ground, but that the methane ice under the ocean will melt, releasing that potent greenhouse gas.

As reported in the blog Arctic News, “huge amounts of methane are now escaping from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, penetrating the sea ice, and entering the atmosphere, in a process that appears to be accelerating, resulting in levels as high as 2662 ppb (at 14384 feet altitude) on November 9, 2013.” Experts generally agree that this amount is roughly twice the globally ‘safe’ level.

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Natural gas is 95-98% methane, a colorless  odorless gas, making leaks hard to detect without scientific instruments. 

How much methane can we breathe? 

The atmosphere now contains about 2.2 ppm by volume of Methane. Methane gas is relatively non-toxic; it does not have an OSHA PEL Standard. Its health affects are associated with being a simple asphyxiant displacing oxygen in the lungs. 

Methane is extremely flammable and can explode at concentrations between 5% (lower explosive limit) and 15% (upper explosive limit). These concentrations are much lower than the concentrations at which asphyxiant risk is significant. 

Reportedly, the most violent methane explosions occur at concentrations of about 9%; coal mines are hence kept well ventilated (pumped with fresh air) to maintain methane levels at or below 1%.

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NASA is keeping an eye on methane

Using spectrometers they can identify certain atmospheric gases, including methane, by the way the gases absorb sunlight. To validate the finding below, NOAA provided airborne plume measurements that were used to calibrate  the NASA data.

One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

Methane is very efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, it contributes to global warming. The hot spot, near the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, covers only about 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometers), or half the size of Connecticut.

In each of the seven years studied from 2003-2009, the area released about 0.59 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. This is almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

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There are different ideas as to how much methane is waiting in ice, but could we just use it as fuel?

Estimates of how much methane is tied up in hydrates globally vary widely but are on the order of 1,000,000 trillion cubic feet. Most of that is flatly unattainable, explains Ray Boswell, the methane hydrates technology manager for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Nevertheless, in 2010, he and Timothy S. Collett, a research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, estimated that even if gas producers restricted themselves to the most workable, sandy formations, the amount of recoverable methane in hydrates could be around 10,000 trillion cubic feet. That quantity compares favorably to the roughly 16,200 trillion cubic feet that the M.I.T. Energy Initiative’s 2010 “Future of Natural Gas” report lists as recoverable from all of the world’s remaining conventional sources.

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In essence, there is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world’s oil, coal and gas put together. There may be economical ways to mine methane.

Fortunately, a vastly better way has come to light: preliminary studies suggest that wells dug into very deep sandy hydrate formations can simply pump methane and water to the surface. The opportunities for methane leakage are minimal because the hydrates are so deeply sealed beneath other sediments and because they spontaneously refreeze as soon as the pumping stops. The potential for an uncontrollable wellhead blowout like the one that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon and polluted the Gulf Coast thus appears to be impossible.
Researchers are also looking into another way of tapping the hydrates that involves injecting carbon dioxide into them. The carbon dioxide can displace the trapped methane in the hydrates and release it for collection. An additional advantage of this approach would be that it would sequester the CO2 beneath the seafloor, which could only help further in attempts to curtail climate change from industrial emissions.

Could melting methane ice, however, dramatically change our atmosphere? We know that Saturn’s 4.5 billion year old moon Titan has a mostly methane atmosphere (which is odd, because sunlight irreversibly destroys methane after tens of millions of years. Life?) 

But methane hydrates are not just a resource. They remain, more darkly, one of the veiled menaces whose existence should urge action on the climate. The deep hydrate formations that developers might tap seem reasonably secure against big unwanted releases of methane—but the more shallow deposits on parts of the seafloor and under the Siberian and North American permafrosts are not. If global temperatures continue to rise, and if the oceans (which absorb most of the trapped greenhouse-effect heat) rise in temperature by a few degrees Celsius, then those more exposed methane hydrates will begin to decompose on their own. How much methane they could abruptly burp into the atmosphere is uncertain, and may depend on the precise circumstances. But any additional atmospheric methane will be unwanted and could greatly accelerate greenhouse effects for a few decades, further complicating any efforts to adapt to the new climate.

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It may turn into a chain reaction, just a few degrees warmer temperatures leading to more methane and faster warming.

… while methane hydrate may be cleaner than coal or oil, it is still a hydrocarbon, and burning methane creates CO2. 

As global temperatures rise, warming oceans and melting permafrost, the enormous reserves of methane trapped in ice may be released naturally. The consequences could be a catastrophic circular reaction, as warming temperatures release more methane, which in turn raises temperatures further.

“If all the methane gets out, we’re looking at a Mad Max movie,” says Mr Varro.

“Even using conservative estimates of methane [deposits], this could make all the CO2 from fossil fuels look like a joke.

“How long can the gradual warming go on before the methane gets out? Nobody knows, but the longer it goes on, the closer we get to playing Russian roulette.”

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It seems the earth has its life sustaining amount of oxygen now because high levels of methane in our atmosphere in the past (an ancient methane haze) let excess hydrogen escape into space.

… it wasn’t always like this. Until around 2.4 billion years ago, this planet was a total hellhole, replete with wild temperature fluctuations fueled by an atmosphere of roiling, toxic gases. How our planet became such a Shangri-la after such unpromising beginnings is a question that has nettled Earth scientists for decades. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the big change happened over the course of only about a million years — lightning fast, by geologic time standards — and involved a whole lot of methane, a key ingredient in modern cow belches and swamp gas. …

The methane was actually the clincher in the Great Oxidation Event — also known as the Great Oxygenation Event — which introduced oxygen to our atmosphere and made multicellular life on Earth possible. …

“High methane levels meant that more hydrogen, the main gas preventing the buildup of oxygen, could escape into outer space, paving the way for global oxygenation,” said coauthor Aubrey Zerkle, a biogeochemist at the University of St. Andrews

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The above article says there was a million years of methane haze on the earth with about 10,000 times less oxygen. 

Early in the Earth’s history—about 3.5 billion years ago—there was 1,000 times as much methane in the atmosphere as there is now. The earliest methane was released into the atmosphere by volcanic activity.

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Is methane on a planet a sign of life?

The presence of methane on Mars could be significant because by far most of the gas on Earth is a byproduct of life – from animal digestion and decaying plants and animals.
Past studies indicated no regular methane on Mars. But new research using three ground-based telescopes confirmed that nearly 21,000 tons of methane were released all at once during the late summer of 2003, according to a study published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science. …

said Carnegie Institution astronomer Alan Boss, an expert on looking for life on other planets. “Is it from life (past or present) buried below the surface of Mars, or does it come from a more prosaic source such as geochemical processing of rocks?”

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Are we headed back to a methane atmosphere?

Levels of the potent greenhouse gas continue to rise and scientists aren’t sure where most of it is coming from, though likely suspects include fracking, increased coal mining in China and a melting Arctic. In 2006, the scientists who monitor methane, a greenhouse gas about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, thought that concentrations of the gas, which had sharply risen in the 1980s, had plateaued.

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Methane gasses plumes are now happening in many places.

In an unexpected discovery, hundreds of gas plumes bubbling up from the seafloor were spotted during a sweeping survey of the U.S. Atlantic Coast. … the bubbles are almost certainly methane, researchers reported Aug. 24 in the journal Nature Geoscience.

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Methane plumes off the cost of Oregon and Washington are worrying scientists. 

“We see an unusually high number of bubble plumes at the depth where methane hydrate would decompose if seawater has warmed,” lead author H. Paul Johnson said in a statement. “So it is not likely to be just emitted from the sediments; this appears to be coming from the decomposition of methane that has been frozen for thousands of years

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It is not clear how much escaping methane will enter the atmosphere, but it is resulting in a more acidic ocean.

It’s also not clear how much methane gas is actually getting to the surface. The researchers say that most of the deep-sea methane is getting gobbled up by marine microbes during the journey up. These microbes convert the methane into carbon dioxide, which results in low-oxygen and acidic conditions in deeper offshore waters. From there, this tainted water trickles along the coast and makes its way into coastal waterways.

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The coral reefs, a great source of oxygen, are dying off.

Coral reefs, the “rainforests of the sea,” are some of the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on earth. They occupy only .2% of the ocean, yet are home to a quarter of all marine species: crustaceans, reptiles, seaweeds, bacteria, fungi, and over 4000 species of fish make their home in coral reefs. With an annual global economic value of $375 billion, coral reefs provide food and resources for over 500 million people in 94 countries and territories. But tragically, coral reefs are in crisis. … If we reach 450 parts per million of C02 in the atmosphere (as of 2010, we were at 388 ppm) ocean temperatures will rise 2˚ C, calcium carbonate levels in the oceans will decrease, and we will largely destroy all our coral reefs.

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Odds of life on earth as we know it existing in the next 1,000 years? One scientist says we probably have less than 100 years to human extinction.

Eminent Australian scientist Professor Frank Fenner, who helped to wipe out smallpox, predicts humans will probably be extinct within 100 years, because of overpopulation, environmental destruction and climate change. … Fenner said that climate change is only at its beginning, but is likely to be the cause of our extinction. “We’ll undergo the same fate as the people on Easter Island,” he said. More people means fewer resources, and Fenner predicts “there will be a lot more wars over food.”… Professor Fenner has had a lifetime interest in the environment, and from 1973 to 1979 was Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at ANU. 

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Given this possibility, think how little certain things about which we squabble and fuss actually matter. We can all work together to try to survive, or we can go the way of the mighty brontosaurus. 

Stay tuned.

Posted in: Archaeology, Survival