Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Life in the Dead Zone

200 million years ago, the super-continent Gondwana (Africa, South America, Australia and, crucially to this post, Antarctica) was teeming with ancient life including, naturally, the dinosaurs. That continent broke up over many millions of years into the four present continents. But this means, of course, that dinosaurs once roamed Antarctica. So did countless other creatures. Back then, it was not positioned at the far southern tip of the planet and it was quite warm.

It’s amazing now, when you look at aerial pictures of the rugged continent and hear stories of the hardy scientists (and others) that live months or years at a time in the harshest climate on Earth, to think of all of these animals roaming and making a good life of it. But survive, thrive and evolve they did.

But here’s what I think is the really exciting part of all of this. Our abilities to explore and extract from that continent grow exponentially along with the rapid increase in all of our technological ingenuity. In the coming decades, we can expect some absolutely astonishing discoveries coming from Antarctica.

In the mid-nineties, a team lead by William Hammer of Augustana College dug up some dinosaur fossils. Only recently have those fossils been thoroughly examined and described. It transpires that we have a brand new genus and species of dino! Here’s the story. There should be plenty more such finds in the years to come. Some of them might make this one seem positively minor.



I also wanted to point readers to this list that I recently came upon over at bloggingheads.tv on their Science Saturday “diavlog” between science writers George Johnson and John Horgan (two regulars). John Horgan was one of those responsible for compiling this particular list, called The Stevens Seventy Greatest Science Books.

From Horgan’s statement about the list:

We at the Center for Science Writings began compiling “The Stevens Greatest Science Books” in late 2005. Written primarily by scientists but also by philosophers, historians, journalists and other worthies, these books stand out for their subject matter, rhetorical style and impact on science and the rest of culture. Although our original goal was 100 books, we’re stopping at the “Stevens Seventy,” which has a mnemonic ring to it. Also, we worried that a larger list might seem boastful, like a list of “My 100 Closest Friends.”

I know I have more reading to do than I can handle, and I figure many of my friends do too. Still, I love good books about science so it’s nice to find resources like this one that I can look at and maybe occasionally add a book.


The Exterminator said...

It's great to have that list available. I've read or partially read only about 15 of those books. Even though I don't read science very often, I've bookmarked the list for future reference.

Thanks, Evo.

PhillyChief said...

There isn't enough time in the day to read everything I want.

the chaplain said...

Nice list. I'm already about a dozen books behind. My pile of "to-read" books keeps growing. Now my "buy-to-read" list is about to get longer too. If only could quit working...

ordinary girl said...

*hangs her head in shame*

I haven't read any of them.

Although, a few are on my list. The Selfish Gene is on my "To Read" Bookshelf. Parasite Rex is on my wish list. And, Why People Believe Weird Things is on my Audible.com wish list and I have an outstanding credit.

There's always too much to read. I need a deserted island and 100 bookshelves full of books (and a couple of years).

John Evo said...

I'm sure glad I posted that "after-thought" about the Stevens Seventy.
I can only assume that my post about the unimaginable fossil finds on Antarctica would have been met with a group snore.

@ OG - don't fret girl, the books you have on your list and two or three others are the only ones I have read in entirety.

The only person on earth who has read all seventy of those books is probably John Horgan - since it's HIS list! On the "diavlog" between Horgan and Johnson, George Johnson named about 20 books that he thought should have been included on the list. Several of those I had read and concurred. Horgan had only read a couple of them.

And I'm guessing that despite your relative youth, you've read more books in your life than I have. I have been a reading fool in recent years and I've had periods in the past when I've read a lot, but there have been whole decades where I probably read as many books as years.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Oh, I love dinosaurs. Especially the ones on the Flintstones. That Barney is so funny, and Wilma, she's hot and...ummm...ZZZZ

(snort) Whah..sorry, I drifted off there. Let me get a cup of coffee, I'll be right back.

The Exterminator said...

Don't feel bad: The dinosaur discovery in Antarctica is very interesting. I must admit, though, that I'm pretty pissed off we no longer refer to all sauropods as "brontosauruses."

However, since most of us are not likely to go that far south to dig for dinosaur bones, and since most of us are likely to continue reading books in the future, we've hooked onto the section of the post we can relate to immediately.

So if you decide sometime to write a serious scientific post about the origins of the universe, don't include a few paragraphs about your favorite toilet paper.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Charmin! That's my favorite. I'm glad you mentioned it.

Nothing like a little caffeine to revive you. Perks one right up. Yessiree!

I see you had a little something there about science books. I've only read 2 or three of them, but I notice they try to make it difficult, suggesting that we read Freud and Popper in German.

John Evo said...

Hey, if I were talking to a German audience, I'd suggest reading Origin of Species in English! Darwin had many upsetting situations with his translations. Particularly the French version if I recall correctly. But he felt that all of them missed some important points or changed them to things he didn't mean to say. Some of them were translated so badly that you wouldn't even know that he was talking about evolution! Anyway, I would assume most of those old problems have long since been corrected - still...

Sillysighbean said...

"Down...Dino ..DOWN!" F.F. Thank you for posting, fascinating.

Lynet said...

Oh, I loved "Godel, Escher, Bach"! That surprises nobody, right? Maths and intricate optical illusions and music? Right up my street!

Mind you, I'd recommend Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" over Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" any day -- even though I think string theory is probably a red herring. So I guess I'm not entirely in agreement with the list.

There are an awful lot I haven't read, though!

Dinosaurs in my Southern neighbour, huh? The father of one of my school friends had been to Antarctica more than once, and visited our class once with amusing stories about how they deal with the way your nose runs in the cold.

Well, it was amusing to kids our age, anyway. Hence the fact that that's the part I remember.

The Exterminator said...

Oh, I loved "Godel, Escher, Bach"! That surprises nobody, right? Maths and intricate optical illusions and music? Right up my street!

Now, see, I'm also into maths, music, and intricate optical illusions. But ALL that damn cutesy-wootsy stuff, page after page after page of unfunny silliness, made the book so cloying, don't you think?

Lynet said...

Actually, I, um, thought it was funny. In a soft, musical, mathematical sense, the way you can laugh at a pretty pattern. I found the silly chapters nice down time from the serious ones -- sure, some of the patterns were gratuitous, but I usually enjoyed the general idea.

Tastes differ, I guess.

John Evo said...

Lynet said: Well, it was amusing to kids our age, anyway.

Come on Lynet, you're ruining this mental image I have of you as a super-precocious 10 year old who would be fascinated in the possibilities of sequencing DNA from those frozen fossils!

Frozen SNOT?