Monday, June 20, 2005

The Mother Of All Dinosaurs

Earlier this year it was reported that T-rex fossil bones had been recovered that still contained soft tissue.

Scientists report that 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in Montana, unlike other dinosaur fossils found so far, has soft tissues, including blood vessels and possibly cells lining them, that have retained some of their original flexibility, elasticity and resilience;

The New York Times reports a further surprising development about the ongoing research. It seems that the T-rex remains are that of a female and that the animal was ovulating at the time of its death.

For the second time in two months, a Tyrannosaurus rex recently excavated in Montana has surprised scientists. Among its rock-hard fossils, the scientists had already isolated soft tissues, including blood vessels and cells lining them - a most improbable discovery after 70 million years.

The same paleontologists may now have topped that. They are reporting today that the same T. rex has yielded unusual bone tissue that shows that the animal was an ovulating female. Until now, distinguishing the sex of dinosaurs has been impossible without well-preserved pelvic bones.

This finding has given scientists further evidence to tie dinosaurs to birds.

Moreover, after careful testing, the scientists determined that the estrogen-derived tissue was similar to substances now present only in living birds that produce eggshells. The discovery team concludes in a report in the journal Science that the finding "solidifies the link between dinosaurs and birds" and "provides an objective means of gender differentiation in dinosaurs."

Though there is still not uniform acceptance of the connection between dinosaurs and birds, this is a significant development for those making that link.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

No Fly Zone @ Disney But Not @ Nuke

Our own local chamber of horrors, the Indian Point nuclear power facility has more than it's share of problems. These are chronicled extensively at the Riverkeeper site.

Until recently, Indian Point 2 had the worst safety record among the nation's 103 commercial power reactors. That dubious distinction was awarded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which has a five-category system that rates the performance of nuclear plants and decides the level of federal control needed to ensure they are run correctly.

These include age, numerous shutdowns, problems with storage of spent fuel, releases of radioactive material, vulnerability to earthquake damage and security problems. (There is much more on the Riverkeeper site and I would recommend going there to read all of it.)

According to Riverkeeper, it is estimated that more than 20 million people live within a 50 mile radius of of the power plant. Included are the 5 boroughs of New York City and surounding suburbs, northern New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut. These are some of the most densely populated areas in the nation.

The facility was built almost 30 years ago at a time before the problems now associated with at least some nuclear power plants were fully appreciated, both from environmental and safety standpoints. It was also a time when terrorism was considerably less of a threat. In the wake of 9/11 there have been renewed concerns regarding Indian Point's susceptibility to terrorist attack. Apparently little has changed since before that time. The vulnerability to air attack is a particular problem. In fact, one of the 9/11 jets passed overhead on that day. In view of this, what follows is most intreresting.

Indian Point or Disney, which is more vulnerable to air attack? Riverkeeper has the answer:

Indian Point is still without a no-fly zone. This is rather disturbing given the fact that both Disney World and Disneyland have no-fly zones enforced above them. If Mickey Mouse and Disney deserve a no-fly zone, shouldn't Indian Point and Entergy?

So Mickey and Minny get protection currently unavailable to a vulnerable nuclear facility with a very poor safety record. The happiest place on earth indeed!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Federal Fish Fiasco Foiled

At the Bonneville dam on the northwest's Columbia river it is estimated that salmon swimming upstream will number less than half of their usual 225,000. Indian nations, long dependent on the river's bounty, must seek other sources of fish for their springtime ceremonies, food and economic stability. Commercial fishing and tourism have also suffered. Theories range from natural to man-made causes, but there are no clear answers at this time. Actions of the administration have served, at least in part, to keep the cause unclear.
Last week a Federal District Court Judge, Judge James A. Redden, ruled that the Bush administration had manipulated its analysis of the effects of 14 federal dams on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Judge Redden determined that the government had failed to ascertain that its' actions would likely negatively impact the two endangered species. From the New York Times (emphasis added):

A federal judge in Oregon ruled Thursday that the Bush administration had arbitrarily limited and skewed its analysis of the harm that 14 federal dams cause to endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead. As a result, Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court ruled, the administration had shirked its duty to ensure that government actions were not likely to jeopardize the survival of the species.

The matter is now being sent back to the National Marine Fisheries Service for the third time for a determination. The Times continues:

In his ruling, Judge Redden pointed out four fundamental flaws in the November 2004 "biological opinion" presented by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which estimated the threats to the fish and made conservation recommendations. Chief among the flaws cited was the distinction that the agency drew, for the first time, between harm to the fish resulting from the dams' existence and the harm resulting from the operation of the dams. ... The judge ruled that the administration was trying to carve out a loophole that would restrict its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. ...Judge Redden added that the consequences would be an analysis "that ignores the reality of past, present and future effects of federal actions on listed species." ... The November 2004 biological opinion was just such an analysis, the judge wrote, adding, that "N.O.A.A.'s interpretation conflicts with the structure, purpose and policy behind" the Endangered Species Act. He also said the analysis "has the effect of substantially lowering the threshold required for the mitigation."

Attempting to change the rules by which the government must play, have we heard this theme before? Score one for the fish.