World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched Giant Ancient Reptile
The more than 11-by-7-inch egg was first discovered in 2011, according to a University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) press release, but researchers only recently figured out that it was a 66 million-year-old egg. Their findings, published in Nature Wednesday, are helping transform our understanding of ancient reptiles.
"A soft-shelled fossil egg like this is a rare gem," Princeton University evolutionary biologist Mary Caswell Stoddard, who was involved with the research, told NPR. "The lack of soft-shelled fossil eggs, which are extraordinarily rare, makes it challenging to flesh out a detailed picture of egg evolution in vertebrates. This discovery helps provide one critical piece of the puzzle."
Very excited to introduce Antarcticoolithus bradyi, the largest soft-shelled #fossil #egg found to date! Our study… https://t.co/eMBn2ghLLn— Julia Clarke (@Julia Clarke)1592408561.0
The egg is so unique partly because of what the researchers think it hatched: a giant marine reptile like a mosasaur that was not thought to lay eggs at all.
"It shows their reproductive mode may have been very similar to that seen in some living lizards and snakes where there is a very thin eggshell present on an egg from which the baby emerges almost immediately," study coauthor and professor at UT Austin's Jackson School's department of geological sciences Julia Clarke told CNN.
To make this determination, the researchers compared the egg-to-body size ratio of 259 modern reptiles. They then calculated that the animal that came out of the egg would have needed to be more than 20 feet long, excluding the tail.
The egg's structure is very similar to quick-hatching eggs laid by some snakes and lizards today! Imagine this, but… https://t.co/ZiE5UQj9kg— UT Jackson School of Geosciences (@UT Jackson School of Geosciences)1592411261.0
They also found fossil evidence of baby and adult mosasaurs and plesiosaurs in the same rock formation where the egg was discovered.
"Many authors have hypothesized that this was sort of a nursery site with shallow protected water, a cove environment where the young ones would have had a quiet setting to grow up," lead author and UT Austin postdoctoral researcher Lucas Legendre said in the press release.
But these discoveries might not have been made at all if Clarke hadn't visited Chile's National Museum of Natural History in 2018.
The egg, which looked like a deflated football, had been brought to the museum by Chilean scientists who found it in Antarctica in 2011, according to the press release. Unsure of what it was, they dubbed it "The Thing."
"It was weird enough that they decided to collect it, even though it wasn't clear what it was. It definitely wasn't bone, but it was strikingly unusual," Clarke told NPR.
Coauthor David Rubilar-Rogers was one of the discovering scientists, according to the press release. He showed it to every geologist who visited the museum but received no answers, until Clarke arrived.
"I showed it to her and, after a few minutes, Julia told me it could be a deflated egg!" Rubilar-Rogers said.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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