Early armored dino from Texas lacked cousin’s club-tail weapon, but had a nose for danger

SMU Research

Originally Posted: May 23, 2016

Pawpawsaurus’s hearing wasn’t keen, and it lacked the infamous tail club of Ankylosaurus. But first-ever CT scans of Pawpawsaurus’s skull indicate the dino’s saving grace from predators may have been an acute sense of smell.

Well-known armored dinosaur Ankylosaurus is famous for a hard knobby layer of bone across its back and a football-sized club on its tail for wielding against meat-eating enemies.

It’s prehistoric cousin, Pawpawsaurus campbelli, was not so lucky. Pawpawsaurus was an earlier version of armored dinosaurs but not as well equipped to fight off meat-eaters, according to a new study, said vertebrate paleontologist Louis Jacobs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Jacobs is co-author of a new analysis of Pawpawsaurus based on the first CT scans ever taken of the dinosaur’s skull. READ MORE

SMU scientists co-authored study showing that humans have been causing earthquakes in Texas since the 1920s

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: May 17, 2016

Earthquakes triggered by human activity have been happening in Texas since at least 1925, and they have been widespread throughout the state ever since, according to a new historical review of the evidence published online May 18 in Seismological Research Letters.

Causes of earthquakes in TexasThe earthquakes are caused by oil and gas operations, but the specific production techniques behind these quakes have differed over the decades, according to Cliff Frohlich, the study’s lead author and senior research scientist and associate director at the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin. SMU seismologists Heather DeShon, Brian Stump, Chris Hayward and Mathew J. Hornbach, and Jacob I. Walter at the University of Texas at Austin are co-authors. READ MORE

Ancient Hammerhead with Sharp Teeth was First Vegetarian Reptile

Modern Readers

Originally Posted: May 9, 2016

Don’t let those sharp teeth fool you, because this ancient hammerhead reptile had no appetite for meat.

The hammerhead’s most distinctive feature was its two menacing rows of teeth, with one group resembling needles and another group resembling chisels. That would normally hint that it was a carnivore, and probably one of the most fearsome sea creatures of its time. But the strangest thing about the animal is that it ate plants, with those rows of teeth serving a different purpose than what one may think.

A new study has detailed how Atopodentatus unicus (“uniquely strangely toothed”) existed in the middle Triassic era, millions of years before dinosaurs rose to prominence. Fossils of the hammerhead reptile were first spotted in 2014 in southern China, and based on scientists’ findings, the animal had lived about 242 million years ago, making it the earliest herbivorous marine reptile by only about eight million years. Not to mention, one of the strangest, according to the researchers.

“On a scale of weirdness, I think this is up there with the best,” said study lead Nicholas Fraser of the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. “It kind of reminds me of some of the Dr. Seuss creations.”

Aside from the unique teeth that gave the reptile its scientific name, A. unicus had a longer neck in proportion to its body, and a tiny head, also in relation to its overall size. Another key feature was the animal’s strong fore-limbs for swimming. Overall, A. unicus measured nine feet long from head to tail, making it about as large as a modern alligator.

Southern Methodist University paleontologist Louis Jacobs was not involved in the study, but he told Live Science about how A. unicus may have used its teeth. He said that the needle-like teeth may have also been used by the animal to collect plants, in a similar way to how baleen whale catches krill. The chisel teeth, on the other hand, may have helped the reptile scrape plants from the seafloor. Once A. unicus gathered its food, he added, it would “suck in a mouthful of water,” presumably to make the food easier to swallow down.

“Then, they squish the water out of their mouth, and those little teeth along the sides of the jaw and on the roof of the mouth strain out all of the plant bits,” Jacobs continued. “That’s an amazing way to feed. I’d like to do that myself.”

Fraser also shared his insights about A. unicus’ peculiarities, namely its being a plant-eater despite its sharp teeth, which was unusual for marine reptiles during the era. He believes this may have been due to a lack of plant diversity at the time.

“This fossil took us very much by surprise. However, this was a whole different world,” said Fraser. “So now we are beginning to accept this strange and wonderful environment that gave rise to very unfamiliar body forms.” READ MORE

Could Texas’ dirty coal power plants be replaced by geothermal systems?

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: April 26, 2016

For Texas electricity customers, geothermal energy is pretty much an afterthought. But some scientists — and even some people in the oil and gas business — say that heat from deep underground may become a significant source of power.

SMU ‘Power Plays’ conference April 25-26

SMU NEWS

Originally Posted: April 22, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s renowned Geothermal Lab will host its eighth international energy conference April 25-26 on the Dallas campus, focused on using the oilfield as a base for alternative energy production through the capture of waste heat and fluids.

In addition to oil and gas field geothermal projects, experts will discuss coal plant conversion for geothermal production, the intersection of geothermal energy and desalination, and large-scale direct use of the energy source produced by the internal heat of the earth.

“Power Plays: Geothermal Energy in Oil and Gas Fields” begins with an opening reception and poster session from 5:30 – 8 pm Monday, April 25, followed by a daylong program of speakers and presentations Tuesday, April 26. Conference details are available here. Walk-up registration is available at the conference site, the Collins Center at 3150 Binkley Avenue, Dallas, 75205.

The technology that is the primary focus of the conference takes advantage of an existing resource frequently considered a nuisance – wastewater produced by oil and gas wells during extraction. As a well ages it will typically produce more water and less oil or gas over time, which raises the cost of production. Where the produced wastewater is hot enough, and the water flow rate is sufficient, specially designed turbines can draw geothermal energy from the wastewater.

That “bonus” geothermal energy can be used to either generate electricity to operate the oil field equipment and lower the cost of production, sell the electricity directly to the power grid or – more likely – to nearby industry users seeking a highly secure electrical source. READ MORE

Heather DeShon, Earth Sciences, seven million Americans at risk of man-made earthquakes, USGS says

Washington Post

Originally Posted: March 28, 2016

Earthquakes are a natural hazard — except when they’re man-made. The oil and gas industry has aggressively adopted the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter subsurface shale rock and liberate the oil and gas lurking there. But the process results in tremendous amounts of chemical-laden wastewater. Horizontal drilling for oil can also produce massive amount of natural, unwanted salt water. The industry disposes of this wastewater by pumping it into deep wells. READ MORE

Matthew Siegler, Earth Sciences, ancient lunar ice indicates the moon’s axis slowly shifted by 125 miles, or 6 degrees, over 1 billion years.

SMU Research

Originally Posted: March 23, 2016

NASA data leads to rare discovery: Earth’s moon wandered off axis billions of years ago

A new study published today in Nature reports discovery of a rare event — that Earth’s moon slowly moved from its original axis roughly 3 billion years ago.

Planetary scientist Matthew Siegler at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, and colleagues made the discovery while examining NASA data known to indicate lunar polar hydrogen. The hydrogen, detected by orbital instruments, is presumed to be in the form of ice hidden from the sun in craters surrounding the moon’s north and south poles. Exposure to direct sunlight causes ice to boil off into space, so this ice — perhaps billions of years old — is a very sensitive marker of the moon’s past orientation.

An odd offset of the ice from the moon’s current north and south poles was a tell-tale indicator to Siegler and prompted him to assemble a team of experts to take a closer look at the data from NASA’s Lunar Prospector and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. Statistical analysis and modeling revealed the ice is offset at each pole by the same distance, but in exactly opposite directions. READ MORE

Grad student discovers river in Peru so hot it boils animals alive

Tech Insider

Originally Posted: February 22, 2016

Deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, an anomalous and perplexing natural wonder lies: A raging river that boils.

Once just the stuff of folklore, geophysicist Andrés Ruzo, a PhD student at Southern Methodist University, set out to find the legendary waterway himself.

He not only found it, but he confirmed that it does, in fact, surge at a scalding 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It feels like I’m in a sauna inside a toaster oven,” Ruzo said sitting on the bank of the river in his new book, The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon. (Ruzo also discussed his quest to understand its puzzling features in a recent TED talk.) READ MORE

SMU-led seismology team cited in Dallas Morning News story on oil fracking

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: February 18, 2016

Oklahoma is dealing with earthquakes, so why isn’t Texas?

Texas regulators seem to have a tough time finding a link between injection wells used to dispose of hydraulic fracturing wastewater and seismic tremors. A SMU-led study team found a probable association but the Texas Railroad Commission continues to challenge those findings.

Now let’s drive north to Oklahoma. Oil and gas regulators there this week asked the operators of about 250 injection wells to reduce the amount of wastewater they inject into the ground by 40 percent. They also want operators in western Oklahoma to reduce injections by more than 500,000 barrels a day. The earthquake activity demands a regional response, which they noted in their press statement:

“…there is agreement among researchers, including our partners at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, that the data clearly underscored the need for a larger, regional response. That is why, even as we took actions in various parts of the region in response to specific earthquake events, we were already working on a larger plan.”

Oil and Gas Conservation Division Tim Baker says while the plan is a response to the continued seismicity in the area, the action will also include areas that are not yet experiencing major earthquakes. READ MORE

Egypt unveils rare whale fossil museum to boost tourism

Daily Mail

Originally Posted: January 14, 2016

SMU professor Louis Jacobs led a study that discovered dozens of rare “walking whale” fossils in the Sahara desert. “The whales were stranded upriver at a time when east Africa was at sea level and was covered with forest and jungle,” said Jacobs. Now, a $2.17 billion museum has opened onsite to help preserve the rare fossils. READ MORE