Water-rich gem points to vast ‘oceans’ beneath Earth’s surface, study suggests

A University of Alberta diamond scientist has found the first terrestrial sample of a water-rich gem that yields new evidence about the existence of large volumes of water deep within Earth.An international team of scientists led by Graham Pearson, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic Resources at the U of A, has discovered the first-ever sample of a mineral called ringwoodite. Analysis of the mineral shows it contains a significant amount of water — 1.5 per cent of its weight — a finding that confirms scientific theories about vast volumes of water trapped 410 to 660 kilometres beneath Earth’s surface, between the upper and lower mantle.”This sample really provides extremely strong confirmation that there are local wet spots deep in the Earth in this area,” said Pearson, a professor in the Faculty of Science, whose findings were published March 13 in Nature. “That particular zone in the Earth, the transition zone, might have as much water as all the world’s oceans put together.”Ringwoodite is a form of the mineral peridot, believed to exist in large quantities under high pressures in the transition zone. Ringwoodite has been found in meteorites but, until now, no terrestrial sample has ever been unearthed because scientists haven’t been able to conduct fieldwork at extreme depths.Pearson’s sample was found in 2008 in the Juina area of Mato Grosso, Brazil, where artisan miners unearthed the host diamond from shallow river gravels. The diamond had been brought to the Earth’s surface by a volcanic rock known as kimberlite — the most deeply derived of all volcanic rocks.The discovery that almost wasn’tPearson said the discovery was almost accidental in that his team had been looking for another mineral when they purchased a three-millimetre-wide, dirty-looking, commercially worthless brown diamond. The ringwoodite itself is invisible to the naked eye, buried beneath the surface, so it was fortunate that it was found by Pearson’s graduate student, John McNeill, in 2009.”It’s so small, this inclusion, it’s extremely difficult to find, never mind work on,” Pearson said, “so it was a bit of a piece of luck, this discovery, as are many scientific discoveries.”The sample underwent years of analysis using Raman and infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction before it was officially confirmed as ringwoodite. The critical water measurements were performed at Pearson’s Arctic Resources Geochemistry Laboratory at the U of A. The laboratory forms part of the world-renowned Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis, also home to the world’s largest academic diamond research group.The study is a great example of a modern international collaboration with some of the top leaders from various fields, including the Geoscience Institute at Goethe University, University of Padova, Durham University, University of Vienna, Trigon GeoServices and Ghent University.For Pearson, one of the world’s leading authorities in the study of deep Earth diamond host rocks, the discovery ranks among the most significant of his career, confirming about 50 years of theoretical and experimental work by geophysicists, seismologists and other scientists trying to understand the makeup of the Earth’s interior.Scientists have been deeply divided about the composition of the transition zone and whether it is full of water or desert-dry. Knowing water exists beneath the crust has implications for the study of volcanism and plate tectonics, affecting how rock melts, cools and shifts below the crust.”One of the reasons the Earth is such a dynamic planet is the presence of some water in its interior,” Pearson said. “Water changes everything about the way a planet works.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. …

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Valentine’s Day advice: Don’t let rocky past relations with parents spoil your romance

University of Alberta relationship researcher Matt Johnson has some Valentine’s Day advice for anybody who’s had rocky relations with their parents while growing up: don’t let it spill over into your current romantic partnership.The love between parents and teens — however stormy or peaceful — may influence whether those children are successful in romance, even up to 15 years later, according to a new U of A study co-authored by Johnson, whose work explores the complexities of the romantic ties that bind.Being aware of that connection may save a lot of heartache down the road, according to Johnson, who reviewed existing data that was gathered in the United States over a span of 15 years.The findings, which appear in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family, uncovered a “small but important link between parent-adolescent relationship quality and intimate relationships 15 years later,” Johnson said. “The effects can be long-lasting.”While their analysis showed, perhaps not surprisingly, that good parent-teen relationships resulted in slightly higher quality of romantic relationships for those grown children years later, it poses a lesson in self-awareness when nurturing an intimate bond with a partner, Johnson said.”People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions. But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behaviour — positive or negative — in an intimate relationship.”That doesn’t mean parents should be blamed for what might be wrong in a grown child’s relationship, Johnson added. “It is important to recognize everyone has a role to play in creating a healthy relationship, and each person needs to take responsibility for their contribution to that dynamic.”The results were gleaned from survey-based information from 2,970 people who were interviewed at three stages of life from adolescence to young adulthood, spanning ages 12 to 32.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Human Urine Metabolome: What scientists can see in your urine

Sep. 5, 2013 — Researchers at the University of Alberta announced today that they have determined the chemical composition of human urine. The study, which took more than seven years and involved a team of nearly 20 researchers, has revealed that more than 3,000 chemicals or “metabolites” can be detected in urine. The results are expected to have significant implications for medical, nutritional, drug and environmental testing.”Urine is an incredibly complex biofluid. We had no idea there could be so many different compounds going into our toilets,” noted David Wishart, the senior scientist on the project.Wishart’s research team used state-of-the-art analytical chemistry techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography to systematically identify and quantify hundreds of compounds from a wide range of human urine samples.To help supplement their experimental results, they also used computer-based data mining techniques to scour more than 100 years of published scientific literature about human urine. This chemical inventory — which includes chemical names, synonyms, descriptions, structures, concentrations and disease associations for thousands of urinary metabolites — is housed in a freely available database called the Urine Metabolome Database, or UMDB. The UMDB is a worldwide reference resource to facilitate clinical, drug and environmental urinalysis. The UMDB is maintained by The Metabolomics Innovation Centre, Canada’s national metabolomics core facility.The chemical composition of urine is of particular interest to physicians, nutritionists and environmental scientists because it reveals key information not only about a person’s health, but also about what they have eaten, what they are drinking, what drugs they are taking and what pollutants they may have been exposed to in their environment. Analysis of urine for medical purposes dates back more than 3,000 years. In fact, up until the late 1800s, urine analysis using colour, taste and smell (called uroscopy) was one of the primary methods early physicians used to diagnose disease. …

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‘Back to sleep’ does not affect baby’s ability to roll

June 3, 2013 — Baby, keep on rolling. A campaign to put babies to bed on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome has not impaired infants’ rolling abilities, according to University of Alberta research.Johanna Darrah, a professor of physical therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, says infants develop the ability to roll much the same today as they did 20 years ago when the “back to sleep” campaign was introduced and successfully reduced the occurrence of SIDS. Her research answers fears that the back to sleep campaign, which recommends putting babies to bed on their back instead of their stomach, would hurt an infant’s gross motor development, specifically the ability to roll from tummy to back and vice versa.”Infant gross motor development hasn’t changed that much in 20 years,” says Darrah. “The thought that babies first roll from their tummy to their back, before they go from their back to their tummy, does not appear to be the case. For most babies, they happen very close together.”Darrah first studied infant motor development in the early 1990s as a graduate student of former dean Martha Cook Piper when the pair published the Alberta Infant Motor Scale, an observational assessment scale used throughout the world to measure infant motor skill development from birth to walking.More than 20 years later, Darrah revisited the work, studying the rolling abilities and motor skills development of 725 Canadian infants ranging in age from one week to eight months. One of her goals was to see whether the norms identified and developed 20 years ago still represent the age of emergence of gross motor skills.Darah notes there is some concern in the physical therapy community that babies develop movement skills like rolling from tummy to back at later ages because of reduced time spent on their stomachs. Those concerns appear to be unfounded, she says, explaining that her results are particularly valuable for health-care practitioners specializing in early childhood development.”Our results would suggest that gross motor skills emerge in the same order and at the same ages as 20 years ago. The environment is of course important to gross motor development, but the change in a sleeping position hasn’t made much difference as to when babies roll from stomach to back.”

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Driving and hands-free talking lead to spike in errors

May 24, 2013 — Talking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

A pilot study by Yagesh Bhambhani, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and his graduate student Mayank Rehani, showed that drivers who talk using a hands-free cellular device made significantly more driving errors — such as crossing the centre line, speeding and changing lanes without signalling — compared with just driving alone. The jump in errors also corresponded with a spike in heart rate and brain activity.

“It is commonplace knowledge, but for some reason it is not getting into the public conscience that the safest thing to do while driving is to focus on the road,” said Rehani, who completed the research for his master’s thesis in rehabilitation science at the U of A.

The researchers became interested in the topic in 2009 shortly after Alberta introduced legislation that banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving but not hands-free devices. In this study, they used near infrared spectroscopy to study the brain activity of 26 participants who completed a driving course using the Virage VS500M driving simulator at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive optical technique that allows researchers to examine real-time changes in brain activity in the left prefrontal lobe. Participants were first tested in a control condition, using the simulator to drive in city street conditions using no telecommunications device. They were tested again while talking on a hands-free device during two-minute conversations that avoided emotionally charged topics.

The research team found there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition. A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin — a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication.

“The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ‘distracted’ condition,” said Bhambhani.

He added the results did not reveal a significant relationship between enhanced neuronal activation and the increase in the number of driving errors, most likely because the near infrared spectroscopy measurements were recorded from a single site, the prefrontal lobe.

The findings are considered novel on a topic that is receiving considerable attention by policy-makers globally. Rehani’s contribution to the project earned him the 2013 Alberta Rehabilitation Award for Innovation in Rehabilitation (Student).

The researchers note this is a preliminary study and hope that it can be part of a larger body of literature that can help inform policy-makers about the safety implications of using hands-free devices while driving.

For Rehani, the work was part of rewarding academic journey at the U of A, which gave him opportunities to do research in a number of areas in neuroscience. He said he received outstanding support from both the faculty and colleagues at the Glenrose — including Quentin Ranson, the occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology lead who helped facilitate the simulator research.

“To have a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is the only free-standing faculty of its kind in Western Canada, and to have a hospital like the Glenrose dedicated to rehabilitation, is amazing,” he said. “Both workplaces have such a collegial environment, with quality faculty and staff who are both working toward patient betterment. These institutions connect so well, it’s fantastic.”

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Small, speedy plant-eater extends knowledge of dinosaur ecosystems

May 22, 2013 — Dinosaurs are often thought of as large, fierce animals, but new research highlights a previously overlooked diversity of small dinosaurs. In the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a team of paleontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and University of Calgary have described a new dinosaur, the smallest plant-eating dinosaur species known from Canada. Albertadromeus syntarsus was identified from a partial hind leg, and other skeletal elements, that indicate it was a speedy runner. Approximately 1.6 m (5 ft) long, it weighed about 16 kg (30 lbs), comparable to a large turkey.


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Albertadromeus lived in what is now southern Alberta in the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago. Albertadromeus syntarsus means “Alberta runner with fused foot bones.” Unlike its much larger ornithopod cousins, the duckbilled dinosaurs, its two fused lower leg bones would have made it a fast, agile two-legged runner. This animal is the smallest known plant-eating dinosaur in its ecosystem, and researchers hypothesize that it used its speed to avoid predation by the many species of meat-eating dinosaurs that lived at the same time.

Albertadromeus was discovered in 2009 by study co-author David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum as part an on-going collaboration with Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to investigate the evolution of dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of North America. The known dinosaur diversity of this time period is dominated by large bodied plant-eating dinosaurs.

Why are so few small-bodied dinosaurs known from North America some 77 million years ago? Smaller animals are less likely to be preserved than larger ones, because their bones are more delicate and are often destroyed before being fossilized. “We know from our previous research that there are preservational biases against the bones of these small dinosaurs,” said Caleb Brown of the University of Toronto, lead author of the study. “We are now starting to uncover this hidden diversity, and although skeletons of these small ornithopods are both rare and fragmentary, our study shows that these dinosaurs were more abundant in their ecosystems than previously thought.”

The reason for our relatively poor understanding of these small dinosaurs is a combination of the taphonomic processes (those related to decay and preservation) described above, and biases in the way that material has been collected. Small skeletons are more prone to destruction by carnivores, scavengers and weathering processes, so fewer small animals are available to become fossils and smaller animals are often more difficult to find and identify than those of larger animals.

Albertadromeus may have been close to the bottom of the dinosaur food chain but without dinosaurs like it you’d not have giants like T. rex,” said Michael Ryan. “Our understanding of the structure of dinosaur ecosystems is dependent on the fossils that have been preserved. Fragmentary, but important, specimens like that of Albertadromeus suggest that we are only beginning to understand the shape of dinosaur diversity and the structure of their communities.”

“You can imagine such small dinosaurs filling the niche of animals such as rabbits and being major, but relatively inconspicuous, members of their ecological community” said Anthony Russell of the University of Calgary.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Caleb Marshall Brown, David C. Evans, Michael J. Ryan, Anthony P. Russell. New data on the diversity and abundance of small-bodied ornithopods (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) from the Belly River Group (Campanian) of Alberta. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 2013; 33 (3): 495 DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2013.746229

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