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May 7, 2012 at 7:04 PM
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Did gassy dinosaurs warm Earth?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 7 (UPI) -- Dinosaurs may have caused climate change through their flatulence, releasing enough methane to warm the climate millions of years ago, British researchers say.

Sauropods, known for their enormous size and long necks, had methane-producing microbes in their guts to aid digestion by fermenting plant food, as cows do today, they said.

"A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate" 150 million years ago, Dave Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University said.

Wilkinson and study co-author Graeme Ruxton from the University of St. Andrews detailed their research in the journal Current Biology.

"Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources -- both natural and man-made -- put together," Wilkinson said.

Studies of methane production in a range of modern animals has provided equations that predict methane production from animals of different sizes.

A medium-sized sauropod weighed approximately 40,000 pounds, researchers said, and global methane emissions from sauropods could have been 520 million tons per year, comparable to total modern methane emissions.

By comparison, modern ruminant animals, including cows, goats, giraffes and others, produce methane emissions of 50 million to 100 million tons per year, they said.

GPS could be tsunami warning tool

HONOLULU, May 7 (UPI) -- Commercial ships traveling the globe could provide better warnings for potentially deadly tsunamis through their onboard GPS systems, U.S. scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center report a UH research vessel was able to detect and measure the properties of the tsunami generated by a magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Maule, Chile, in February 2010, even though out in the open ocean the wave was only about 4 inches.

On its way from Hawaii to Guam at the time of the tsunami, the vessel Kilo Moana was equipped with a geodetic GPS system that recorded data as the tsunami passed by, a university release reported Saturday.

The finding came as a surprise because tsunamis have small amplitudes in deep water compared with their size when they reach a coastline, the researchers said.

Scientists say such GPS data could be another weapon in tsunami detection and warning efforts.

"Our discovery indicates that the vast fleet of commercial ships traveling the ocean each day could become a network of accurate tsunami sensors," UH researcher James Foster said.

"If we could equip some fraction of the shipping fleet with high-accuracy GPS and satellite communications, we could construct a dense, low-cost tsunami sensing network that would improve our detection and predictions of tsunamis -- saving lives and money," he said.

Emergency traffic system passes test

ANTHEM, Ariz., May 7 (UPI) -- A small city in Arizona has successfully tested a computer-controlled traffic system to help emergency responders reach the site of an incident, officials said.

Anthem, just north of Phoenix, was the test site for a federally funded traffic management system that will not only protect emergency vehicles from colliding with traffic during rapid response, but can allow them to "talk" to each other and prioritize each other's routes to an emergency incident, the University of Arizona College of Engineering reported.

In a live demonstration of the SmartDrive system in April 2012, traffic signals at six intersections along a 2.3-mile stretch of an Anthem street were retrofitted with components to allow the signals to "talk" to not only each other, but with at least two other emergency vehicles involved in the demonstration.

The system uses a combination of short-range radios, WiFi and Bluetooth to maintain connections.

When the incident alert alarm was given to the system, it began clearing a path of green lights for the test emergency vehicle while also reporting the location of the vehicle to coordinators and other vehicles connected to the system.

"It's the capability to talk to several responding vehicles at once that makes this traffic system unique, and is the focus of our research," said Larry Head, professor of systems and industrial engineering at the UA College of Engineering.

Researchers said the system could also be expanded to give city buses, special needs vehicles and other mass transportation providers a clear path through traffic tie-ups in near-real time.

Ancient crocodile may have dined on humans

IOWA CITY, Iowa, May 7 (UPI) -- An ancient crocodile big enough to swallow a human whole once thrived in East Africa, a University of Iowa researcher says.

"It's the largest known true crocodile," Christopher Brochu, a professor of geoscience, said. "It may have exceeded 27 feet in length. By comparison, the largest recorded Nile crocodile was less than 21 feet, and most are much smaller."

Resembling its living cousin the Nile crocodile, but much more massive, the species lived between 2 and 4 million years ago in Kenya, Brochu reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Fossils of the giant crocodile were found in areas of Kenya known for important human fossil discoveries, he said.

"It lived alongside our ancestors, and it probably ate them," Brochu said.

Crocodiles generally eat whatever they can swallow, he said, and humans of that time period would have stood no more than 4 feet tall.

"We don't actually have fossil human remains with croc bites, but the crocs were bigger than today's crocodiles, and we were smaller, so there probably wasn't much biting involved," he said.

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