July 2019 Was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded, NOAA Confirms
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
"Much of the planet sweltered in unprecedented heat," NOAA said on its website. "The record warmth also shrank Arctic and Antarctic sea ice to historic lows."
For example, Alaska saw its warmest July since statewide records began in 1925. At the same time, despite powerful heat waves in Europe, the continent marked only the 15th-hottest July on record.
Turning Up the Heat
The agency tracks global temperatures on land and in the oceans. According to its experts, the period between January and July was the hottest to date in parts of North and South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the southern half of Africa.
Globally, the current year seems set to tie with 2017 as second-hottest on record. While very warm, 2019 is unlikely to surpass the all-time heat record set by 2016.
Last month, however, narrowly beat the record set in July 2016, which was cooler by 0.03 degrees Celsius. The average global temperature in July 2019 was 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 Fahrenheit) higher than the 20th century average for this month.
It follows record-breaking heat in June, which was also the warmest June ever recorded.
Ice, Ice Maybe
The agency notes that nine out of the 10 hottest Julys ever recorded all happened since 2005. The last five years have all ranked in the top five. July 2019 was also the 415th consecutive month with above-average temperatures.
The Arctic Sea ice coverage shrank by 19.8% compared with average values, beating a previous historic low in July 2012. Antarctic ice coverage was also the smallest on record.
The heating trend is likely to continue due to global climate change.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.
By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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