Primeval ‘Devil Frog’ May Have Sported Anti-Dinosaur Armor

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Primeval ‘Devil Frog’ May Have Sported Anti-Dinosaur Armor

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer   |   January 29, 2014 10:00am ET
A new analysis finds that the devil frog, Beelzebufo ampinga, was slightly smaller than previously thought, had massive spikes protruding from its skull, and a plate of body armor on its back that may have helped it fend off predators.
Credit: Luci Betti-Nash / SUNY – Stony Brook

An ancient, predatory creature known as the devil frog may have looked even scarier than previously thought.

The monster frog, Beelzebufo ampinga, lived during theCretaceous Period in what is now Africa, and sported spiky flanges protruding from the back of its skull and platelike armor down its back, almost like a turtle shell.

“We knew it was big; we knew it was almost certainly predatory,” said study co-author Susan Evans, a paleontologist at the University College London. “What the new material has shown us is that it was even more heavily armored than we imagined.”

The massive frog’s spiked body armor may have helped it fend off the dinosaurs and crocodiles that prowled during that time. [See Photos of the Devil Frog and Other Freaky Frogs]

Elusive lineage

The researchers first discovered a few bone fragments from a mystery frog in Madagascar in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2008 that they had enough pieces to identify the species, which they dubbed the devil frog, or Beelzebufo ampinga. The massive frog lived between 70 million and 65 million years ago.

When the team analyzed the frog’s morphology, they found that physically, it fit in with a family of horned frogs called the Ceratophryidae, which are now found only in South America.

But to reach Madagascar from South America, the frogs would have needed to hop along a passageway, possibly through Antarctica, that linked the two landmasses. But that route was submerged underwater by 112 million years ago, Evans said.

That would mean that devil frogs must have diverged from their South American cousins prior to that submergence, pushing back the origin of Ceratophryidae by more than 40 million years, Evans said.

More specimens

Over the course of the next five years, the team found several more bone fragments of Beelzebufo ampinga. In the new study, they combined all of the fragments to do a much more complete reconstruction of the devil frog.

The new analysis confirms the frog’s lineage in the Ceratophryidae family. It also downgrades the amphibian’s size — instead of being the biggest frog that ever lived, it may be closer to the size of an African bullfrog, which grows to about 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) across.

Even so, the analysis reveals that the devil frog was even fiercer-looking than previously thought. Past studies had suggested it had a huge, globular head; sharp teeth; and short back legs, but the spiky flanges and the plates embedded in its skin were a surprising discovery.

The frogs may have hunted like African bullfrogs, hiding before pouncing on a small mammal.

It’s not clear what the frogs used the body armor for, but one possibility is that the sculptured bones may have been an adaptation to a dry environment that allowed the frogs to burrow underground, where they were less likely to bake in the hot sun, Evans said.

But the armor may also have been protection.

“There were an awful lot of things roaming around that would have liked a bite out of a big, juicy frog,” such as dinosaurs, crocodiles and even strange mammals that once lived on the Gondwana supercontinent, Evans told LiveScience.

The findings were published Jan. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience@livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on LiveScience.


Bizarre Magnetic Particle Revealed in Ultra-Cold Lab Experiment

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Bizarre Magnetic Particle Revealed in Ultra-Cold Lab Experiment

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer   |   January 29, 2014 01:06pm ET
An illustration of magnetic monopole
Credit: Heikka Valja

Bizarre magnetic behavior that was predicted by a famous physicist more than 80 years ago has finally been demonstrated in the lab, according to a new study.

The behavior of an electron in response to a magnetic monopole, or a solitary magnet with just a north pole, has been demonstrated in an ultra-cold material that mimics a natural magnetic system. And the monopole and electron system behaves just as English physicist Paul Dirac predicted it would in 1931.

Though the new experiment, described today (Jan. 29) in the journal Nature, doesn’t prove that such monopoles exist outside the lab in other magnetic systems, it could help physicists know what to look for in nature, said study co-author David Hall, a physicist at Amherst College in Massachusetts. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Experiments]

Magnetic monopoles

All known magnets have a north and south pole: Break a magnetic compass needle in two, for instance, and there will always be two smaller magnets with both poles.

“You can slice up your needle as much as you like and you can even get down to the atomic level, and you’ll still have a north pole and a south pole,” Hall told LiveScience.  Even electrons and protons have two poles.

This is a mystery because many physicists believe that a magnetic monopole — a magnet with just one pole — should exist. For instance, monopoles would explain why the electric charge of subatomic particles such as electrons and protons always come in discrete units of a fundamental charge, Hall said.

And if such magnetic monopoles exist, they likely formed just after theBig Bang when all of space was much hotter and denser than it is today; the conditions may have been energetic enough to form these bizarre magnetic particles, scientists have said.

In 1931, Dirac tried to imagine how this monopole could be consistent with the Standard Model, the reigning physics theory that describes the behavior of tiny particles.

He predicted that a magnetic monopole would leave a little whirlpool trail as it passed through an electron, with a blank corridor in the middle where the electron is completely absent, terminating in the magnetic monopole. (In quantum theory, electrons aren’t solid masses with fixed boundaries, but rather fuzzy blobs that other objects can pass through.)

Revealing vortex

Unfortunately, scientists have searched in vain for natural monopoles, so it was difficult to test Dirac’s theory.

To do so, Hall and his colleagues cooled rubidium atoms to just a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. At this temperature, the atoms display weird quantum behavior, essentially acting like a single wave instead of an aggregation of particles.

They used one rubidium atom to mimic an electron, and then created the magnetic field of a monopole by tweaking the alignment of millions of other rubidium atoms, each of which essentially acts like a tiny compass needle pointing in a slightly different way.

They then took pictures of the “electron” as it interacted with the “magnetic field.”

Sure enough, as the synthetic monopole encountered the electron, it created a whirling vortex and a corridor region with no atoms that terminates at the center, just as Dirac predicted, Hall said.

The work “is a beautiful demonstration of quantum simulation, a growing field that uses real quantum systems to model others that are difficult to make, calculate, or observe,” said Lindsay Leblanc, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Canada, who wrote a News & Views article about the new study in Nature.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience@livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Girl’s Back Hair Was Sign of Spine Problems

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Girl’s Back Hair Was Sign of Spine Problems

By Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer   |   January 29, 2014 05:04pm ET
A tuft of dark hair on the back of a 3-year old girl (left) was a sign of underlying spinal abnormalities. On the right, an image of the spinal cyst and split spinal cord.
Credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2014

A young girl’s thick back hair was actually a sign of spine problems, according to a new report of the case.

The girl, a 3-year-old living in Taiwan, was taken to the doctor for removal of a tuft of course hair on her lower back.

Just after she was born, the child had undergone magnetic resonance imagining, which showed she had a split spinal cord, a condition known as diastematomyelia, as well as a fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord, called syringomyelia. Some of her spinal fluid was also leaking out onto the skin surface. [14 Oddest Medical Cases]

At 4 days old, she had surgery to stop the leaking spinal fluid, and at 7 months old, she had additional surgery to repair her other spinal abnormalities.

The girl’s condition is broadly known as occult spinal dysraphism, a group of spine malformations that are hidden from the surface, except for skin markings that, to the untrained eye, may seem unrelated.

But pediatricians know that if there is a marking on a child’s lower back, they need to investigate because of its connection with underlying neural problems, said Dr. Toba N. Niazi, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Miami Children’s Hospital, who was not involved in the care of the Taiwanese girl. These markings can include excessive hair (especially shaped like a horses tail), thin skin, dimples or small skin appendages that look like a tail, Niazi said. About 80 percent of children with occult spinal dysraphism have some type of skin marking, Niazi said.

These malformations involve many body structures, including nerves, muscle, skin and bones, and that’s why markings often appear on the skin surface, Niazi said. “It’s a malformation of the whole way the spine and skin is formed,” in the affected area, Niazi said.

Dr. Ahmad Latefi, an attending neurosurgeon at North Shore-Long Island Jewish’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y., said that hair growth on the back is a “classic” sign of a split spinal cord malformation, which the Taiwanese girl had.

If not treated early in life, occult spinal dysraphism can cause neurological problems or musculoskeletal deformities, Niazi said.

After her surgery, the Taiwanese girl had normal cognitive development, and no difficulty walking, said the researchers, from National Taiwan University Hospital. The child’s parents were told she could have laser hair removal when she was “old enough to cooperate with the procedure,” the report said.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettnerFollow LiveScience@livescienceFacebook&Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

10 Weird and Terrifying Medical Instruments from the Past

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10 Weird and Terrifying Medical Instruments from the Past

By Mark Lorch, University of Hull   |   January 21, 2014 06:01pm ET

Weird and terrifying

Credit: Wellcome Library.This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The UK’s largest medical charity, the Wellcome Trust, has made its vast database of images freely available to all. The collection holds photos of hundreds of years worth of medicine, instruments and scientific culture.

For me, the progress of science best described by advances in medicine and the instruments used to practice it. Here is a list of a few of my favourites.

French brass syringe

Credit: Science Museum, London.


Nothing quite says medicine like a syringe. And this collection has plenty, from the 17th century brass or 18th century ivory enema syringes, to the 20th century’s glass and stainless steel ones, all clearly made to last much longer than our modern disposable versions.

17th century French brass syringe

Ivory enema syringe

Credit: Science Museum, London. 

18th century Sri Lankan Ivory enema syringe

Japanese self-administering enema syringe with a piston and reservoir

Credit: Science Museum, London.

19th century Japanese self-administering enema syringe with a piston and reservoir



Surgical instruments

Credit: Wellcome Library. 

Then there are the surgical instruments, like the 16th century tools below. Those on the right include a double-bladed knife, a forceps for extracting arrow head and a bullet extractor.

Humiliation and punishment

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. 

Others like the Belgian Iron “scolds bridle” mask from the 1550s that was used to publicly humiliate and punish, mainly women, speaking out against authority, nagging, brawling with neighbours, blaspheming or lying, are just horrible inventions.


Credit: Science Museum, London. 

More preferable are the “Jedi” helmets from the 1980s, used in conjunction with MRI scanners to investigate the brain without having to crack open the cranium. The word “Jedi” was used to ensure that children put it on without too much fuss.

Prostethic limbs

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. 

There is also this steampunk steel hand and forearm with brass wrist mountings from 1890.


Credit: Wellcome Library, London. 

And finally how about the slightly disturbing model eye

The original eye pad

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. 

…to go alongside the original eye pad

Mark Lorch does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read theoriginal article. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

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Image of the Day

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Image of the Day

LiveScience Staff   |   January 28, 2014 10:05am ET

Thar She Blows!

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
El Salvador’s San Miguel volcanoerupted on Dec. 29, 2013, leaving the summit with a coating of light gray ash. The December eruption unleashed aplume of ash that reached about 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the atmosphere, according to NASA officials. The ash settled on the slope of the volcano and fell on nearby towns, forcing 5,000 evacuations.NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite collected this photo, which was part of a series of post-eruption images taken on Jan. 15, 2014.

San Miguel is one of El Salvador’s most active volcanoes. Its distinctive symmetrical cone rises to an elevation of 6,990 feet (2,130 meters), and features a large, deep crater at its summit. The volcano last erupted in 2002, according to NASA officials. [Related: Amazing Images of Volcanoes from Space]

Snow Blankets Crater Lake National Park

Credit: National Park Service
As of last week, Crater Lake National Park had seen just 32 inches (81 centimeters) of snow this year. That’s a far cry from the 78 inches (198 cm) ofsnow that should be on the ground by this time of year, but recent mild temperatures and sunny skies has made it the perfect location for some good outdoor activity and great photography, as seen above.Crater Lake National Park is named after Crater Lake, a caldera lake in south-central Oregon. The lake is famous for its deep blue color and the clearness of its water. The lake partly fills the nearly 2,148-foot-deep (655 meter) caldera, which was formed nearly 8,000 years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama.

You won’t find any rivers flowing into or out of Crater Lake. Rainfall and snowfall are needed to keep the caldera full. At 1,943 feet (592 m), the lake is the deepest in the United States, and one of the top 20 deepest lakes in the world.

While the snowfall numbers so far this year have been low, there should be plenty more powder on the way. Crater Lake National Park gets an average of 533 inches (1,353 cm) of snow per year — that’s more than 44 feet (13.4 m) of snow.

A Striped Affair

Credit: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and her baby explore their habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The male zebra foal, named Tanu, was born earlier thisyear, on Jan. 3.Tanu memorizes his mother’s stripe pattern in order to recognize her from other zebras in the herd. While every zebra has a unique stripe pattern, Grevy’s zebras have the skinniest stripes of any zebra species, and their natural streaks run all the way down their back to a white belly. [Related:World’s Cutest Baby Wild Animals]

Look Up!

Credit: Cynthia L. Cunningham, U.S. Geological Survey
Normally, photographing nature shouldn’t require any special effects, but this dramatic scene, shot using a fish-eye lens, captures the incredible beauty of tree canopies in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.The park lies along the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains in north-central Virginia. Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, a 105-mile (169-kilometer) road that runs the length of the park and meanders along the ridge of the mountains, is one of the area’s biggest draws. [Related: 8 Amazing National Park Structures]

Colorful Rock Layers

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
In the northwestern Xinjiang province of China, a series of ridges dominate the landscape, with distinctive red, green and cream-colored sedimentary rock layers visible on some of the highest hills. The colorful layers are created by rocks that formed at different times and in different environments.The red layers near the top are sandstones formed during thePaleozoic Era — which lasted from about 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago — by ancient rivers, while the green layers are sandstones from the Silurian Period formed in a moderately-deep ocean. The cream-colored layers are limestone from the Cambrian and Ordovician Periods formed in a shallow ocean.

The Landsat 8 satellite, operated jointly by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, captured this view on July 30, 2013. [Related: World’s Most Famous Rocks]

Let it Snow

Credit: Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow and low clouds blanket the mountains and trees in this wintry scene of Rocky Mountain National Parkin Colorado. The park contains 150 lakes, 359 miles (578 kilometers) of trails and 72 peaks higher than 12,000 feet (3,700 meters).Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a variety of large mammals, including elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, moose and mountain lions. [Related: Top 10 Most Visited National Parks]

Dynamic Duo

Credit: Takuya Ohkawa
This artist rendering shows the binary system dubbed MAXI J0158-744, a dancing duo of sorts consisting of a white dwarf (left) and a Be star (right). The image was snapped by the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) instrument, which is mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station Kibo module.MAXI discovered the binary system on Nov. 11, 2011, when it captured X-ray data from the explosion of the white dwarf star within that system. A white dwarf is a star that has burned up all of its hydrogen, meaning it no longer powers itself. However, the dwarf’s gravity lets it grab mass from nearby sources, such as other stars like the Be star in the pictured binary system. This additional mass can ignite a thermonuclear explosion to create a nova, or an outburst the likes of the one picked up by MAXI in November 2011.

“The association of a Be star in a nova is very rare. In fact, MAXI J1058-744 is the first of this kind known so far, and there are only a few known binary systems consisting of a white dwarf and a Be star, and no nova has been seen from them,” said lead study researcher Mikio Morii of RIKEN (the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research) in Japan. “We believe that the large luminosity is related to the fact that the white dwarf is small and heavy, meaning that the surface gravity is strong. Because of the strong gravity, only a small amount of accreted matter from the companion is required to make it sufficiently dense and hot to ignite a thermonuclear runaway. Since the accumulated matter is sufficiently small, the hot fireball was directly visible.”

Research like this could help astronomers understand how the sun will evolve when it becomes a white dwarf 5 billion years from now.

Here Comes the Sun

Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory
The new year started off active for our nearest star, with the sun shooting off two solar flares (seen here in awavelength of extreme ultraviolet light) on Jan. 2. The following week, on Jan. 7, the sun unleashed the first major solar flare of 2014, an intense X1.2-class outburst, according to NASA.X-class flares are the most powerful type of solar flares that can erupt from the sun. There are also two weaker categories: M-class flares, which are considered medium strength but still powerful, and C-class flares, which are the weakest types of sun storms.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatorycaptured this image of the Jan. 2 flares. The spacecraft constantly gazes at the sun, snapping a new high-resolution image every second and collecting uninterrupted measurements of solar activity.

Spirals in the Southern Hemisphere

Credit: Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, LANCE/NASA Earth Observatory
A NASA satellite captured these dreamlike swirls of plankton blooms on Dec. 30, 2013, roughly 370 miles (600 kilometers) off the coast of Australia, inthe southeastern Indian Ocean. The agency’s Earth-watching Aqua satellite snapped this image of the colorful blooms, which provide food for a diverse array of sea creatures, ranging from tiny zooplankton to large whales.Phytoplankton blooms require sunlight, water and nutrients to grow. Unlike in coastal waters, nutrients in the open ocean can be sparse. In the case of this bloom, however, nutrients are being churned up by the motion of the ocean currents, according to NASA officials. [Related: 50 Interesting Facts About The Earth]

Stormy Sunset

Credit: K. Scott Jackson, USGS
This ghostly photo, taken in January 2010, captures an exquisite sunsetfollowing a storm at Rodeo Beach in Marin County, Calif.Rodeo Beach, located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is known for its dark, pebbly sand, and the cliffs surrounding the picturesque lagoon. [Related: Scenic Shores – Gallery of the Top Beaches]

Cosmic Dust Factory

Credit: Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
A giant radio telescope in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile captured, for the first time, the immense dust-making capabilities of an exploding star. The remains of the stellar explosion, known as supernova 1987A, are located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy roughly 168,000 light-years away from Earth.The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope captured new views of the supernova brimming with freshly formed dust. If large amounts of this dust drift into interstellar space, it could explain how many galaxies in the universe acquire their dusty appearance, according to ALMA officials.

This artist’s illustration of supernova1987A shows the cold, inner regions of the exploded star (in red), where ALMA detected tremendous amounts of dust. The findings were reported Monday (Jan. 6) at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. [Related: Amazing Images of Star Explosions]

Global View

Credit: Climate Reanalyzer/Climate Change Institute, University of Maine
This colorful map displays today’s air temperature anomalies across the globe. Over North America, a blast of Arctic air, called a polar vortex, is pushing across the northern United States, causing air temperatures across the country to plummet.The polar vortex is an area of low pressure that circulates from west to east in the Arctic during winter. A high-pressure system over Greenland and Canada is pushing the frigid air into the United States. The polar vortex is expected to move northward back over Canada near the end of the week, according to NASA. [Related Photos:The 8 Coldest Places on Earth]

A New Year Dawns at Canyonlands National Park”

Credit: Sarah Chah/US Department of the Interior.
As a new year dawns across America’s national parks, adventure awaits in Utah’s high desert.The above photo captured a recent

Ghostly Glory

Credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response.
NASA’s the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this gorgeous image on Dec. 21, 2013, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The rainbow effect is the result of a phenomenon called glory, in which light is diffracted as it passes through airborne water droplets to create colorful rings centered around a point or shadow, according to NASA Earth Observatory.Here the glory graces a peaceful scene of stratocumulus clouds — those low, puffy masses that form below 6,500 feet (2,000 m) — off the Pacific coast of Peru. [In Photos: Reading the Clouds]

NASA’s Earth-observing Terra satellite was launched on Dec. 18, 1999, with the aim of collecting information about the planet’s changing climate. Since it’s launch, the satellite’s instruments have captured plenty of data and stunning views of planet Earth, including brewing tropical storms, blizzards, Antarctic ice,deep-sea eddies and swirling marine phytoplankton

Champagne Supernova

Credit: NASA
Happy New Year from Cassiopeia A, a supernova remnant that gives Time Square’s New Year’s ball a run for its money in the beauty department. This colorful image, taken by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in 2009, shows an exploded star 11,000 light-years away. The green ring surrounding the supernova is from the initial shock wave generated by the explosion; it measures 10 light years in diameter. The bright blue areas are nearly pure iron gas from the hottest part of the star.

Earth’s Conveyor Belts Trap Oceans of Water

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Earth’s Conveyor Belts Trap Oceans of Water

By Becky Oskin, Staff Writer   |   January 28, 2014 01:54pm ET
The 1996 eruption of Karymsky volcano was preceded by a magnitude-7.1 earthquake.
Credit: Mikhail Zelensky

Water, water, everywhere, even deep inside the Earth. That’s the outcome of collisions between the planet’s grinding tectonic plates, according to a new study.

At subduction zones, where one plate bends deep beneath another, the sinking plate acts like a conveyor belt, carrying more than an ocean’s worth of water into the mantle — the layer beneath Earth’s outer crust — over billions of years, researchers report in the Jan. 10 issue of the journal Geology. Though the lifetime of a single subduction zone is much shorter than a billion years, the cumulative effect of all of Earth’s subduction zones trundling water downward into the mantle means more water could be stored in the planet’s deep layers than previously thought, the study researchers said in a statement.

“This supports the theory that there are large amounts of water stored deep in the Earth,” Tom Garth, lead study author and an earthquake seismologist at the University of Liverpool in the U.K., said in the statement.

Water In The Mantle isn’t in pools or lakes, but rather tiny droplets caught in microscopic spaces between the mantle’s crystals . Earlier studies have hinted that huge amounts of water may be stored in the mantle, but the total amount is fiercely debated.

Knowing how much water gets into the mantle is important for modeling how plate tectonics works and how magma (molten rock) rises from the mantle to Earth’s surface, the researchers said in a statement. For example, similar to how adding a little water makes it easier to stir a thick cake mix, water can make rocks less sticky, or viscous, and therefore flow more easily. [Infographic: What is Earth Made Of?]

Earthquakes reveal clues

Garth and his co-authors calculated how much water a subduction zone transports by analyzing earthquakes underneath northern Japan. Here, the Pacific Plate dives beneath Japan. Earthquakes in the descending slab —geology jargon for the Pacific Plate’s sinking oceanic crust — are slower than expected because of the presence of lots of water-altered minerals, according to computer modeling by the research team.

subduction zone

Subduction zones may carry an ocean’s worth of water into the mantle, the layer beneath Earth’s crust.
Credit: University of Liverpool

Scientists have long known that some of the water in a sinking slab escapes the crust and travels upward, altering the rocks above a subduction zone. These escaping fluids also trigger melting, and are the source of the spectacular volcanic chains that appear above subduction zones, such as in the Andes, the Aleutian Islands and Indonesia.

But the seismic evidence from Japan suggests faults within the Pacific Plate also trap water in a mineral called serpentine, Garth and his colleagues report. (The Pacific Plate, and all sinking subduction zone plates, have smaller faults within them from the stress of bending downward.)

A “wet” mineral, serpentine fills the faults, as much as 50 percent to 71 percent, according to the seismic evidence. (Differences in speeds at which seismic waves travel through the ground can be used to gauge what minerals occur at a certain depth.) This translates into the oceanic crust sucking down 170 to 318  teragrams (170 to 318 million metric tons) of water every million years into the mantle. (The mass of the oceans is about a billion times larger than this.)

“We found that fault zones that form in the deep oceanic trench offshore Northern Japan persist to depths of up to 150 kilometers [90 miles],” Garth said. “These hydrated fault zones can carry large amounts of water, suggesting that subduction zones carry much more water from the ocean down to the mantle than has previously been suggested.”

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanetFacebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience’s OurAmazingPlanet.

Real-Life Hit Men Nothing Like ‘Sherlock’ Shadowy Snipers

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Real-Life Hit Men Nothing Like ‘Sherlock’ Shadowy Snipers

By Stephanie Pappas, Senior Writer   |   January 27, 2014 04:20pm ET
A handgun fires.
Credit: csabaczShutterstock

In the second season of the BBC’s hit show “Sherlock,” shadowy snipers threaten the eponymous detective’s friends by skulking around stairwells with high-powered rifles or infiltrating their homes and workplaces.

In real life, targets of assassination in Britain are more likely to be killed while walking their dogs or going shopping, new research finds.

The study of contract killings spanning from 1974 to 2013, published in The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, finds that assassinations are often rather mundane.

“Hit men are familiar figures in films and video games, carrying out ‘hits’ in underworld bars or from the rooftops with expensive sniper rifles,” David Wilson, a criminologist Birmingham City University’s Center for Applied Criminology, said in a statement. “The reality could not be more different.” [Understanding the 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors]

The four types of hit men

Wilson and his colleagues were interested in studying contract killing, in which someone pays another person to carry out a murder. These types of killings are rarely studied, the researchers said.

They combed through newspaper archives for examples of hits in Britain and found evidence of 27 murders carried out by 35 hit men — and one hit woman. They also used court transcripts and interviews with offenders to find out details such as how much killers had been paid.

The results revealed a wide variety of ages and expertise in killing. Hit men were as young as 15 and as old as 63, with an average age of 38. There were four types of hit men: Novices, who were caught after their first murder; dilettantes, who are the least likely to have a criminal background and may lack enthusiasm for killing; journeymen, who are career criminals but not particularly stealthy; and masters.

Masters are the least likely to be caught, Wilson and his colleagues found. They often have a military or paramilitary background, and are successful because they have few local ties. Journeymen, in contrast, may be good at killing, but their criminal connections often give them away to police.

Motives for murder

The cost of a hit varies widely as well, the researchers found. The cheapest kill, in 2010, cost 200 British pounds ($331.72 in today’s U.S. dollars), paid to Santre Sanchez Gayle, a 15-year-old, for killing 26-year-old Gulistan Subasi. Gayle was a “novice” hit man who was caught because he bragged about the killing later.

The highest fee for a contract killing was 100,000 pounds ($165,860 in today’s U.S. dollars). The only female contract killer in the study, a New Zealander named Te Rangimaria Ngarimu, charged 7,000 pounds ($11,610 in today’s dollars) to kill the business partner of two men who hired her from prison in 1992. According to news reports about her trial, she only received about one-seventh that amount.

One “dilettante” hit man, Orville Wright, became known as the hit man who lost his nerve. Wright was sentenced to two years in prison in 1998 after he threatened to kill a London woman at the behest of her ex-boyfriend. After breaking into the woman’s flat and talking to her, Wright was unable to go through with the murder.

The tales hint at how pedestrian most contract killings are. While television hits usually involve shady conspiracies or megalomaniac masterminds, real contract kills are far less melodramatic.

“The motivations to pay a hit man the relatively small amount to carry out a murder were often depressingly banal,” Wilson said in a statement. “Spouses fell out, business deals fell apart and young gang members wanted to impress their elders.”

Or as Sherlock would say: “Boo-ooring.”

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow us@livescienceFacebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.