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'The Blob' threatens carbon-sucking power of Pacific Ocean: study – Vancouver Is Awesome

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A multi-year ocean heat wave known as “the Blob” may have temporarily disrupted the biological pump that cycles carbon dioxide deep into the Pacific Ocean for up to thousands of years at a time, a new study has found. 

The study brought together researchers from the University of British Columbia, the Hakai Institute and DFO’s Institute of Ocean Sciences. Together, they analyzed 271 biological samples collected along a 1,425-kilometre path stretching from the south coast of Vancouver Island into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The results, published last week in the journal Communications Biology, showed significant changes in microbial species living on the ocean’s surface before, during and after the Blob first appeared in 2013. 

That change, say the researchers, could signal a re-ordering of the tiniest life at sea — microbes and plankton that act as one of the lungs of the global climate system, releasing but ultimately scrubbing more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year. 

“The Blob is one of the biggest heat waves we have on record in history… There’s only going to be more of them as we go on with time because of climate change,” says lead author Sachia Traving, a marine microbiologist now at a deep ocean institute at the University of Denmark.

“It could push the bacterial communities into a change where the change is permanent… It won’t be able to recover back to the original state.”

Monthly average sea surface temperature for May 2015. Between 2013 and 2016, a large mass of unusually warm ocean water (‘the Blob’) dominated the North Pacific. NASA Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center

HOW DOES THE ‘BIOLOGICAL PUMP’ WORK?

The life-or-death balance known as the ocean’s “biological pump” begins near the sea surface. As miniature photo-synthesizers, phytoplankton sit at the bottom of the food chain, using the sun’s energy to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into solid organic material.

They are a key part of an ocean system that is thought to scrub up to 30 per cent of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere every year.

Some phytoplankton feed krill, shrimp and jellyfish, which in turn feed bigger fish, eventually making it into the mouths of sea life like sharks and dolphins. But not everything in the sea is eaten alive, and like on land, the dead eventually offer a meal to the tiniest of creatures. 

Enter microbic bacteria and archaea. Together, they act as garburators for rotting sea life, breaking down dead organic matter like whale poop, dead carcasses, seaweed — and plankton. 

Microbe populations latch on to this dead organic matter and begin to break it down. Whatever gets metabolized near the sea’s surface gets converted into carbon dioxide, eventually bleeding back into the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, much of the organic matter sinks deep into the ocean, their dead bodies taking the carbon to the ocean floor where it can stay for thousands of years.

“That’s really great because that makes the ocean this huge carbon sink that actually stores a significant amount of carbon dioxide in organic form,” says Traving.

Phytoplankton
By absorbing energy from the sun and combining it with carbon from the atmosphere, phytoplankton form the base of aquatic food webs. NOAA MESA Project

OCEAN HEAT WAVES THREATEN A FINE BALANCE

Scientists have generally assumed the role microbes play remains stable over time, mostly because they account for a huge diversity of species and population sizes.

But research has increasingly found warmer sea surface temperature can throw that stability out of whack, according to Traving.

When the Blob spread in 2015 — one of the biggest ocean heat waves in modern times — sea surface temperatures spiked between 1 and 4 C, extending as deep as 200 metres. 

As nutrient levels, including chlorophyll, dropped, the size of phytoplankton cells decreased. The fear, say scientists, is that the trend toward smaller phytoplankton means less carbon getting scrubbed out of the atmosphere and buried deep in the ocean.

That was bad enough, says Traving. To make matters worse, the research team found warmer seas offered prime conditions for several new species of bacteria, many of them who live independently of phytoplankton. Without latching on to the plankton, they remain at the surface, tiny engines thriving as they burn through dead matter. 

“If (microbes) are very active and they process a lot of organic material, they will also respire a lot of the carbon back, which will eventually end up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide,” says Traving.

Traving says more research needs to be done to understand the scale of the phenomenon. What is certain, is that the climate crisis is expected to lead to more Blob-like heat waves all over the world’s oceans. It’s not a stretch, says Traving, to say that could push these ocean-roaming bacteria into a permanent change.

“Maybe the Blob itself wasn’t really a tipping point as a stand-alone event. But if we get more of those and closer together in the future, then yes, the ecosystem will collapse and it’s gonna like reorder itself in a whole new way.” 

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Geminid Meteor Shower returns in December – country1053.ca

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The best meteor shower of the year are the Geminids and they’ll return this month. They start December 3 and will peak on the evenings of December 13 and 14 at around 2 a.m. ET. What makes this meteor shower interesting is that most come from comets traveling trough the solar system, while this one stems from an asteroid. Hoping for a clear sky both nights and you could see blue and even green colors as the space rocks burn up while passing through Earth‘s atmosphere. More info on the Geminids from NASA. There was already a preview of what you can see on November 3 in Manitoba.

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This 130 million-year-old ichthyosaur was a 'hypercarnivore' with knife-like teeth – Livescience.com

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You wouldn’t want to meet an ichthyosaur while taking a dip in the early Cretaceous seas. That goes double for Kyhytysuka sachicarum: This newly identified 130 million-year-old marine reptile, now known from fossils in central Colombia, had larger, more knife-like teeth than other ichthyosaur species, a new study finds — and that is saying something, as ichthyosaurs are famous for their long, toothy snouts. 

These big teeth would have enabled K. sachicarum to attack large prey, such as fish and even other marine reptiles. 

“Whereas other ichthyosaurs had small, equally sized teeth for feeding on small prey, this new species modified its tooth sizes and spacing to build an arsenal of teeth for dispatching large prey,” paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University’s Redpath Museum in Montreal, Canada, said in a statement.

Related: Fossilized ‘ocean lizard’ found inside corpse of ancient sea monster

One toothy family  

Ichthyosaurs were a large group of marine predators that first evolved during the Triassic period around 250 million years ago from land-dwelling reptiles that returned to the sea. The last species went extinct about 90 million years ago during the late Cretaceous. With long snouts and large eyes, they looked a bit like swordfish. Most species had jaws lined with small, cone-shaped teeth that were good for snagging small prey. 

The newly identified species was likely at least twice as long as an adult human, based on the size of the fossils that have been found (most of a skull and a few pieces of spine and ribs). Probable ichthyosaur fossils were first unearthed in Colombia in the 1960s, but researchers couldn’t agree on the species or precisely how ichthyosaurs from the region were related to others from the same time period. 

For the new study, Larsson and his colleagues focused on a skull kept in the collections of Colombia’s Museo Geológico Nacional José Royo y Gómez, and also considered another partial skull and bones from the spine and ribcage kept at Colombia’s Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas. Larsson and his colleagues announced the discovery and name of the marine reptile Nov. 22 in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology

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Here, an image and anatomical interpretation of the skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
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Skeleton of the extinct ichthyosaur Kykytysuka compared to a human for scale.

Skeleton of the extinct ichthyosaur Kykytysuka compared to a human for scale. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
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This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
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This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
Image 5 of 5

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)

“We compared this animal to other Jurassic and Cretaceous ichthyosaurs and were able to define a new type of ichthyosaurs,” Erin Maxwell of the State Natural History Museum of Stuttgart, Germany, said in the statement. “This shakes up the evolutionary tree of ichthyosaurs and lets us test new ideas of how they evolved.”

Marine predator 

The researchers named the new ichthyosaur species  Kyhytysuka, meaning “the one that cuts with something sharp” in the language of the Indigenous Muisca culture  of Colombia.. There are other species of ichthyosaur with big teeth for catching large prey, the researchers wrote in the study, but those species are from the early Jurassic, at least 44 million years earlier than K. sachicarum. 

The new species lived at a time when the supercontinent Pangea was breaking up into two landmasses — one southerly and one northerly — and when Earth was warming and sea levels were rising. At the end of the Jurassic, the seas underwent an extinction upheaval, and deep-feeding ichthyosaur species, marine crocodiles and short-necked plesiosaurs died out. These animals were replaced by sea turtles, long-necked plesiosaurs, marine reptiles called mososaurs that looked like a mix between a shark and a crocodile, and this huge new ichthyosaur, said study co author Dirley Cortés of McGill’s Redpath Museum. 

“We are discovering many new species in the rocks this new ichthyosaur comes from,” Cortés said in the statement. “We are testing the idea that this region and time in Colombia was an ancient biodiversity hotspot and are using the fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this transitional time.”

Originally published on Live Science

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Kyhytysuka: A pure carnivorous `fish lizard` from 130 million years ago discovered – WION

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The 130-million-year-old hypercarnivore Kyhytysuka, often known as the “Fish Lizard,” has been unearthed.

A remarkable 130-million-year-old swordfish-shaped marine reptile fossil reveals the emergence of hypercarnivory in these last-surviving ichthyosaurs.

A group of multinational researchers from Canada, Colombia, and Germany have unearthed a new prehistoric marine reptile.

The specimen is a brilliantly preserved meter-long skull from one of the few remaining ichthyosaurs — prehistoric beasts that look alarmingly like live swordfish. 

According to researchers, this new species reveals the entire picture of ichthyosaur evolution.

This species, according to experts, originates from a crucial transitional era in the Early Cretaceous.

The Earth had emerged from a comparatively cold phase, sea levels were increasing, and Pangea, the supercontinent, had been split into northern and southern territory.

There were additional worldwide extinction events near the end of the Jurassic, which altered marine and terrestrial ecosystems. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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