Friday, May 23, 2014

South American Dinosaurs, Large and 'Small;' and a Changing World

Leinkupal laticauda isn't the smallest known dinosaur. That honor goes to Compsognathus, a turkey-sized fellow you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Leinkupal may be the smallest sauropod, though: and probably the last diplodocid.
  1. Short: For a Dinosaur
  2. "Biggest Dinosaur:" Paleontologists, Photos, and Prodigious Patagonian Fossils

Older than the Mountains

(From Jon Sullivan, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Mountains in the Teton Range, seen from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.)

My parents and I visited Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks when I was young, and spent a day in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Years later, seeing photos we'd taken, I was surprised that my memories of the Teton Mountains were accurate: They really did look as big as I remembered them.

It was summer when we were there, which may explain why one of the glaciers was noticeably lower on the mountain when we left. The mountains themselves hadn't changed, of course. If I went back there today, I doubt that they would be appreciably different.

Over a human lifespan, or even several generations, mountains remain pretty much as they are: unchanged, apparently-permanent features on the landscape. Maybe that explains why sacred mountains aren't uncommon. In a world where folks are born, live, and die, where rivers may flood or go dry: the mountain is always there.

Or so it seems.

Dinosaurs, Good Times, and Change

(Joe Tucciarone/Science Photo Library, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Argentinosaurus, a sauropod dinosaur: but not the ones in the news.)

When Argentinosaurus was around, about 95,000,000 years back, Anhanguera, pterosaurs with a 15-foot wingspan, flew above what is now Brazil and the United Kingdom.

We call the period in Earth's history from about 145,000,000 to 66,000,000 years back the Cretaceous. South America was an island continent at least for most of the period, and shells of tiny critters like Coccolithophore were drifting to the seafloor where the white cliffs of Dover are today.

It was a good time to be a dinosaur.

It wasn't all good times, though. A few million years after Argentinosaurs' heyday, Earth's ocean ran out of oxygen. Scientists call that environmental disaster, the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary event. Lethal as it was to many of the world's critters, it was a comparatively minor extinction event.

Some critters, like Spinosaurs, and about 27% of the ocean's invertebrates, died out: but others, like cockroaches, skittered through the carnage, on their way to becoming today's pests. (November 29, 2013)

We have quite a bit of data about life on Earth over the last 2,400,000,000 years or so, although we're still far from having a complete picture.

Scientists noticed that every now and then an unusual number of species die out, more or less at the same time. They've spotted about two dozen of these extinction events, or mass extinctions.

More about mass extinctions:

Eruptions: Big; Bigger; - - -

(USGS/AVO, via BBC News, used w/o permission)
(Mount Redoubt, 2009.)

Volcanic eruptions like the ones at Pinatubo, Novarupta, and Krakatoa are spectacular: and more-or-less lethal, depending on how many folks live nearby.

Big eruptions, like the one in Sumatra about 70,000 years back, aren't quite so common. The Lake Toba eruption blew several hundred cubic miles of ash, rock, and debris into the air. Volcanic ash covered an enormous area: 20 feet deep at one place in central India, more than a thousand miles downwind; 30 feet deep in parts of Malaysia.

Folks had been living in that part of the world for quite a while: 700,000 years, at least. They didn't look British, or Chinese, but they used tools. I'm strongly inclined to think of them as "human," even if they would have trouble blending into a crowd these days.

The Lake Toba eruption may or may not have something to do with a genetic bottleneck in humans. It certainly killed many of us, cut off the folks living in what's now China, and that's another topic.

- - - and Really Big

The Lake Toba eruption dumped ash over much of southeast Asia. It may have been the biggest volcanic event in the last 25,000,000 years: but it's nowhere near the most massive in Earth's long history.

The Cenomanian-Turonian boundary event, roughly 91,000,000 years ago, may have been caused by intense undersea volcanic activity: on a scale far beyond the occasional eruptions we see today.

Another flare-up some 120,000,000 years back formed the Ontong Java,  Manihikiand, and Hikurangi Plateaus in the Pacific ocean.

Sometimes these big volcanic events happen on land. About 201,000,000 years back, what's now eastern North America, western Africa, and part of northern South America, were covered in a vast lake of magma. Geologists call it the Central Atlantic magmatic province, or CAMP.

(From Williamborg, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Pangea and the Central Atlantic magmatic province.)

Widening Horizons

Some folks still don't like the idea that Earth is far older than a 17th-century Calvinist thought it was. I don't see why God should conform to the preferences of some folks in ancient Mesopotamia, the British Isles, or Minnesota. Taking the universe "as is" seems like the reasonable thing to do.

Somewhere around the 18th century, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon realized that Earth had to be quite a bit older than the half-dozen or so millennia implied by a literalist's analysis of the Bible.

Buffon came up with 75,000 years as Earth's age, which upset folks at the University of Paris/Sorbonne. As it turns out, Buffon was on the right track: but off by quite a few powers of ten. As nearly as we can tell, Earth is 4,540,000,000 years old: give or take a few million.

I'm okay with that, and it wouldn't matter if I wasn't. God's God, I'm not, and it looks like God is much more patient than I am.

As a Catholic, I believe that God created, and is creating, a good and ordered physical world: one that is changing, in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282-308)

I also believe that studying this astonishing creation cannot interfere with faith, because "the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God." (Catechism, 159)

This week's news items are about South American sauropods, long-necked dinosaurs like Diplodocus and Ampelosaurus. Some of today's mountain ranges were starting to take shape when those critters lived, but Earth didn't look quite the way it does today.

(From C.R. Scotese,; used w/o permission.)
(Earth in days of the sauropods.)

(From C.R. Scotese,; used w/o permission.)
(The heyday of dinosaurs.)

Over the last half-century, we've learned that Earth's mountains change: and that continents are like rafts, carried by great crustal plates. We're still learning how that works.

Paleogeolgists have tracked Earth's shifting crust over the last two thirds of a billion years, and have a pretty good idea of what we can expect in the next quarter billion. Not you and me, of course: humanity, our descendants.

(From C.R. Scotese,; used w/o permission.)

1. Short: For a Dinosaur

(From Reuters, used w/o permission)
"Scientists unearth unique long-necked dinosaur in Argentina"
Will Dunham, Reuters (May 16, 2014)

"It's not exactly small at 30 feet long (9 meters), but you might want to call this newly identified dinosaur the littlest giant.

"Scientists in Argentina on Wednesday announced the discovery of the fossilized remains of a unique member of the famous long-necked, plant-munching dinosaurs known as sauropods, the largest land creatures in Earth's history.

"The dinosaur, named Leinkupal laticauda, may be the smallest of the sauropod family called diplodocids, typified by the well-known Diplodocus, which lived in North America, they said...."
This is the 'other' Argentinian dinosaur. I'll get to the big one in a bit.

Leinkupal Laticauda is a mash-up of the Mapudungún word "lein," or "vanishing", and kupal, "family"; and "latus," which is Latin for "wide," and "cauda," tail.

In English, my native language, that'd be "Vanishing-family Wide-tail." I think Leinkupal Laticauda sounds cooler. Besides, it follows the old tradition in science of using at least some Latin or Greek terms when naming things.

That goes back to the days when the only languages you could count on folks in another area understanding were Latin, or maybe Greek. That's in Europe and around the Mediterranean, anyway, and that's another topic.

The title of that slide in the photo is Spanish for "The Bones Found," by the way.

Besides maybe being the last of the diplodocids, Leinkupal Laticauda is the only diplodocid dinosaur found in what's now South America. The only one we know of, anyway.

Leinkupal's distant ancestors probably didn't swim to what's now South America. Before Pangea broke up, they could have walked. Maybe their small size, and survival, have something to do with their new home's comparative isolation after the Atlantic Ocean began forming.

Leinkupal: Small Survivor

(From Pablo A. Gallina, Sebastián Apesteguía, Alejandro Haluza, Juan I. Canale; via PLOS|ONE, used w/o permission.)
("Photographs and half-tone drawings of the cervical and dorsal vertebrae of Leinkupal laticauda....")

Vertebrae, bones from a critter's backbone, don't seem to show up in the news as much as long bones like femurs. They can be just as useful to scientists, though.

These vertebrae were mixed in with fossils from several other sorts of animals. Pablo A. Gallina and the other scientists sorted out the bones they could be sure belonged to this new-to-us variety of sauropod.

There wasn't much left of this specimen: just two vertebrae from near the front end, and another two from near the rear. If that was all we knew about diplodocids, reconstructions of Leinkupal laticauda might be as accurate as the infamous iguanadon's thumb.

Diplodocids were a fairly common sort of dinosaur, though, so scientists know quite a bit about these long-necked plant eaters, from their bullwhip tails to peg-like teeth.

Some distinguishing features, like the number of vertebrae, aren't relevant in this case: since only four were found. But those apparently had enough diplodocid markers, like "laterally elongated transverse processes with ends pointing ventrally," to identify the critter.

Leinkupal laticauda was huge, compared to animals we're used to seeing: but at 30 feet, this downsized diplodocid was about as long as one of the larger models' tails.


2. "Biggest Dinosaur:" Paleontologists, Photos, and Prodigious Patagonian Fossils

(From BBC News, used w/o permission)
" 'Biggest dinosaur ever' discovered"
James Morgan, BBC News (May 16, 2014)

"Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say.

"Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall.

"Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus.

"Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur - an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period...."
Maybe this critter's discovery got more attention because it was so big. The site where scientists found it may be more photogenic, too.

If I was a news editor, I might decide that more folks would be interested in a "biggest" dinosaur, than one that's sort of small and chiefly notable for outliving similar species. Come to think of it, it looks like I'll be giving more attention to the big bones in Argentina. Those photos are cool.

- - - As Seen on BBC

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Titanosaur: Some assembly required.)
"...A film crew from the BBC Natural History Unit was there to capture the moment the scientists realised exactly how big their discovery was.

"By measuring the length and circumference of the largest femur (thigh bone), they calculated the animal weighed 77 tonnes.

" 'Given the size of these bones, which surpass any of the previously known giant animals, the new dinosaur is the largest animal known that walked on Earth,' the researchers told BBC News...."
(James Morgan, BBC News)
I'm sure that having a BBC Natural History Unit on site to cover the uncovering of the as-yet-unnamed sauropod helped make it "news" around the world.

It might be nice if funding for research was based solely on scientific value: but my guess is that heightened public interest helps.

Anyway, while some scientists measure and analyze the bones, one science writer says: "It's a bit too early to tell" if this critter was as big as the first estimates. (NPR) I think he's right.

The Argentine sauropod's size is based on measurements of a single bone. I don't doubt that we'll learn quite a bit from what's left of seven sauropods, west of of Trelew, Patagonia.

But that's the point: although we've discovered a great deal about this world in the last few centuries, we have much more to learn.

Related posts:

1 comment:

Brigid said...

Extra comma: "and Krakatoa, are spectacular"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.