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  • Nature 09/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: Detailed information about the chemical composition and evolution of Mars has been derived principally from the SNC (shergottite-nakhlite-chassignite) meteorites, which are genetically related igneous rocks of Martian origin. They are chemically and texturally similar to terrestrial basalts and cumulates, except that they have higher concentrations of iron and volatile elements such as phosphorus and chlorine and lower concentrations of nickel and other chalcophile (sulphur-loving) elements. Most Martian meteorites have relatively young crystallization ages (1.4 billion years to 180 million years ago) and are considered to be derived from young, lightly cratered volcanic regions, such as the Tharsis plateau. Surface rocks from the Gusev crater analysed by the Spirit rover are much older (about 3.7 billion years old) and exhibit marked compositional differences from the meteorites. Although also basaltic in composition, the surface rocks are richer in nickel and sulphur and have lower manganese/iron ratios than the meteorites. This has led to doubts that Mars can be described adequately using the 'SNC model'. Here we show, however, that the differences between the compositions of meteorites and surface rocks can be explained by differences in the oxygen fugacity during melting of the same sulphur-rich mantle. This ties the sources of Martian meteorites to those of the surface rocks through an early (>3.7 billion years ago) oxidation of the uppermost mantle that had less influence on the deeper regions, which produce the more recent volcanic rocks.
    Nature 06/2013; 498(7454):342-5.
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    ABSTRACT: Fresh evidence shows that the iron isotopic composition of Earth's silicate component does not, as was previously thought, reflect the formation of the planet's core at high pressure nor losses of material to space.
    Nature 05/2013; 497(7447):43-5.
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    ABSTRACT: Marine and terrestrial animals show a mosaic of lineage extinctions and diversifications during the Jurassic-Cretaceous transition. However, despite its potential importance in shaping animal evolution, few palaeontological studies have focussed on this interval and the possible climate and biotic drivers of its faunal turnover. In consequence evolutionary patterns in most groups are poorly understood. We use a new, large morphological dataset to examine patterns of lineage diversity and disparity (variety of form) in the marine tetrapod clade Plesiosauria, and compare these patterns with those of other organisms. Although seven plesiosaurian lineages have been hypothesised as crossing the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary, our most parsimonious topology suggests the number was only three. The robust recovery of a novel group including most Cretaceous plesiosauroids (Xenopsaria, new clade) is instrumental in this result. Substantial plesiosaurian turnover occurred during the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary interval, including the loss of substantial pliosaurid, and cryptoclidid diversity and disparity, followed by the radiation of Xenopsaria during the Early Cretaceous. Possible physical drivers of this turnover include climatic fluctuations that influenced oceanic productivity and diversity: Late Jurassic climates were characterised by widespread global monsoonal conditions and increased nutrient flux into the opening Atlantic-Tethys, resulting in eutrophication and a highly productive, but taxonomically depauperate, plankton. Latest Jurassic and Early Cretaceous climates were more arid, resulting in oligotrophic ocean conditions and high taxonomic diversity of radiolarians, calcareous nannoplankton and possibly ammonoids. However, the observation of discordant extinction patterns in other marine tetrapod groups such as ichthyosaurs and marine crocodylomorphs suggests that clade-specific factors may have been more important than overarching extrinsic drivers of faunal turnover during the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary interval.
    Biological Reviews 04/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: Soils in permafrost regions contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and permafrost has an important influence of the natural and built environment at high northern latitudes. The response of permafrost to warming climate is uncertain and occurs on time scales longer than has been assessed by direct observation. In this study, we date periods of speleothem growth in a north-south transect of caves in Siberia to reconstruct the history of permafrost in past climate states. Speleothem growth is restricted to full interglacial conditions in all studied caves. In the northernmost cave (at 60°N), no growth has occurred since Marine Isotopic Stage (MIS) 11. Growth at that time indicates that global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw significant regions of permafrost.
    Science 02/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: The global marine distributions of Cd and phosphate are closely correlated, which has led to Cd being considered as a marine micronutrient, despite its toxicity to life. The explanation for this nutrient-like behavior is unknown because there is only one identified biochemical function for Cd, an unusual Cd/Zn carbonic anhydrase. Recent developments in Cd isotope mass spectrometry have revealed that Cd uptake by phytoplankton causes isotopic fractionation in the open ocean and in culture. Here we investigate the physiochemical pathways that fractionate Cd isotopes by performing subcellular Cd isotope analysis on genetically modified microorganisms. We find that expression of the Cd/Zn carbonic anhydrase makes no difference to the Cd isotope composition of whole cells. Instead, a large proportion of the Cd is partitioned into cell membranes with a similar direction and magnitude of Cd isotopic fractionation to that seen in surface seawater. This observation is well explained if Cd is mistakenly imported with other divalent metals and subsequently managed by binding within the cell to avoid toxicity. This process may apply to other divalent metals, whereby nonspecific uptake and subsequent homeostasis may contribute to elemental and isotopic distributions in seawater, even for elements commonly considered as micronutrients.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 01/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: As continental rift zones mature the tectonic and volcanic processes associated with crustal extension become confined to narrow magmatic rift zones, reminiscent of oceanic spreading ridges. The formation of these rift zones and the development of ocean-ridge type topography is a significant milestone in rift evolution as it signifies the localization of crustal extension and rift-related volcanism. Here we show that lavas, which erupted since ~200 ka along part of the on-land Red Sea rift system in Afar, Ethiopia, have a consistent age-progression from the rift axis outwards, indicating that axial dyke intrusion has been the primary mechanism of segment growth and that focused magmatic accretion and extension in the crust have remained stable here over this period. Our results suggest that as this rift segment has formed, in thinned and intruded continental crust, the time-averaged surface opening rate has closely approximated the total extension rate between Africa and Arabia.
    Nature Communications 01/2013; 4:1416.
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    ABSTRACT: Pliosaurids were a long-lived and cosmopolitan group of marine predators that spanned 110 million years and occupied the upper tiers of marine ecosystems from the Middle Jurassic until the early Late Cretaceous. A well-preserved giant pliosaurid skull from the Late Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay Formation of Dorset, United Kingdom, represents a new species, Pliosaurus kevani. This specimen is described in detail, and the taxonomy and systematics of Late Jurassic pliosaurids is revised. We name two additional new species, Pliosaurus carpenteri and Pliosaurus westburyensis, based on previously described relatively complete, well-preserved remains. Most or all Late Jurassic pliosaurids represent a globally distributed monophyletic group (the genus Pliosaurus, excluding 'Pliosaurus' andrewsi). Despite its high species diversity, and geographically widespread, temporally extensive occurrence, Pliosaurus shows relatively less morphological and ecological variation than is seen in earlier, multi-genus pliosaurid assemblages such as that of the Middle Jurassic Oxford Clay Formation. It also shows less ecological variation than the pliosaurid-like Cretaceous clade Polycotylidae. Species of Pliosaurus had robust skulls, large body sizes (with skull lengths of 1.7-2.1 metres), and trihedral or subtrihedral teeth suggesting macropredaceous habits. Our data support a trend of decreasing length of the mandibular symphysis through Late Jurassic time, as previously suggested. This may be correlated with increasing adaptation to feeding on large prey. Maximum body size of pliosaurids increased from their first appearance in the Early Jurassic until the Early Cretaceous (skull lengths up to 2360 mm). However, some reduction occurred before their final extinction in the early Late Cretaceous (skull lengths up to 1750 mm).
    PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(5):e65989.
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    ABSTRACT: Water resources in western North America depend on winter precipitation, yet our knowledge of its sensitivity to climate change remains limited. Similarly, understanding the potential for future loss of winter snow pack requires a longer perspective on natural climate variability. Here we use stable isotopes from a speleothem in southwestern Oregon to reconstruct winter climate change for much of the past 13,000 years. We find that on millennial time scales there were abrupt transitions between warm-dry and cold-wet regimes. Temperature and precipitation changes on multi-decadal to century timescales are consistent with ocean-atmosphere interactions that arise from mechanisms similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Extreme cold-wet and warm-dry events that punctuated the Holocene appear to be sensitive to solar forcing, possibly through the influence of the equatorial Pacific on the winter storm tracks reaching the US Pacific Northwest region.
    Nature Communications 11/2012; 3:1219.
  • Science 11/2012; 338(6110):1040-1.
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