Underwater Asphalt Volcanoes Discovered in Santa Barbara Channel

pic pic

About 10 miles off the Santa Barbara coast, at the bottom of the Santa Barbara Channel, a series of impressive landmarks rise from the sea floor

UC Santa Barbara scientists, working with colleagues from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), UC Davis, University of Sydney, and University of Rhode Island, say that they have identified a series of asphalt volcanoes on the floor of the Santa Barbara Channel.

Using a mass spectrometer, carbon dating, microscopic fossils, and comprehensive, two-dimensional gas chromatography, the scientists determined that these are asphalt and were formed when petroleum was flowing from the floor of the channel about 30,000-40,000 years ago

The largest of these undersea Ice Age domes is at a depth of 700 feet (220 meters) –– much too deep for scuba diving –– which explains why the volcanoes have never been spotted by humans.

The researchers also determined that the volcanoes were at one time a prolific source of methane, a greenhouse gas.

David Valentine, professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara, found two high-profile studies that examined events during the Ice Age, including a period in which water in the channel became anoxic. "It became a dead zone," Valentine said. "We're hypothesizing that these features may have been a major contributor to those events."

New Fossil Material Redefines Azendohsaurus as Bizarre Early Reptile

Following careful study of a prehistoric skull of a new species unearthed in Madagascar, Azendohsaurus madagaskarensis, it turns out Azendohsaurus is not an early dinosaur as long assumed, but rather something even more remarkable.

After scientists pieced together an entire skull of this 230-million-year-old azendohsaur –– a group known previously from just teeth and jaws –– these animals have now been aligned with a very early branch of the reptile evolutionary tree.

In a study published in the journal Palaeontology, UC Santa Barbara Earth Science professor Andre Wyss and other scientists concluded that many aspects of Azendohsaurus are far more primitive than previously assumed, which means that its plant-eating adaptations –– similar to those found in some early dinosaurs –– were developed independently.


This species was initially identified as an early dinosaur in a study published in the journal Science more than a decade ago, but the more recently unearthed fossils have provided the first substantial glimpse of what this animal looked like –– and proof that A. madagaskarensis was not a dinosaur.

Astrophysicists at UC Santa Barbara are the first scientists to identify two white dwarf stars in an eclipsing binary system, allowing for the first direct radius measurement of a rare white dwarf composed of pure helium. The results will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. These observations are the first to confirm a theory about a certain type of white dwarf star

Brief eclipses were discovered during observations of the star NLTT 11748 with the Faulkes Telescope North of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT), a UC Santa Barbara -affiliated institution. NLTT 11748 is one of the few very low-mass, helium-core white dwarfs that are under careful study for their brightness variations.

Scientists were able to measure the changing Doppler shift of the star NLTT 11748 as it orbited its faint, but more massive, white dwarf companion with the use of the 10-meter Keck Telescope, located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, just five weeks after the first observation.

One of the stars in the newly discovered binary is a relatively rare helium-core white dwarf with a mass only 10 to 20 percent of that of the sun. Until now, their size had never been measured. The observations of the star NLTT 11748 by this research group have yielded the first direct radius measurement of an unusual white dwarf.

Studies Offer New Insights Into How Deadly Amphibian Disease Spreads and Kills

Scientists have unraveled the dynamics of a deadly disease that is wiping out amphibian populations across the globe. Chytridiomycosis is caused by a microscopic aquatic fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that attacks the skin of amphibians. This disease was discovered in 1998 and has already caused the decline or extinction of hundreds of amphibian species across the globe

pic The new findings, from two separate studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggest that infection intensity –– the severity of the disease among individuals –– determines whether frog populations will survive or succumb to chytridiomycosis. The research identifies a critical tipping point in infection intensity, beyond which chytridiomycosis causes mass mortalities and extinctions.

"Mountain yellow-legged frogs can naturally occur at such high (population) densities that when Bd hits previously uninfected populations, transmission and re-infection occur at such rapid rates that the severity of infections on all frogs rapidly reach the lethal level, and the frog population goes extinct," said Cheryl J. Briggs, UC Santa Barbara professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and an author of both studies.
The authors suggest that conservation efforts should focus on limiting the severity of the fungal infection on individuals during an outbreak of chytridiomycosis. For example, treating individual frogs with anti-fungal compounds or reducing population density might lower infection intensity and allow some frogs to survive an epidemic. Such interventions could promote a stable relationship with the disease where the infection reaches an endemic steady state..


Asian American Studies Scholar Explores Social Hierarchies Among Chinese Americans

Xiaojian Zhao, associate professor of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, provides a detailed and comprehensive study of contemporary Chinese America in her new book, "The New Chinese America: Class, Economy, and Social Hierarchy" (Rutgers University Press, 2010). Using class analysis, she examines the difficulties of everyday survival for poor and undocumented immigrants and their relationships with their middle-class compatriots.

The Chinese American underclass includes both illegal immigrants and individuals who entered the United States through legal channels –– with passport and visa. The latter remained in the country after their visas expired. Some of the undocumented immigrants are well educated and highly skilled, but their legal status makes the mainstream job market off limits to them. They are forced to rely on the ethnic economy created by other Chinese Americans, often taking jobs that pay very low wages and put them somewhat at the mercy of their employers.

"There has been considerable inequality between the more privileged and more disadvantaged participants in the ethnic economy," Zhao said.

Human Voice Sends Cues About Physical Strength and Fighting Ability

For our ancestors, misjudging the physical strength of a would-be opponent might have resulted in painful –– and potentially deadly –– defeat
Now, a study conducted by a team of scientists at UC Santa Barbara has found that a mechanism exists within the human brain that enables both men and women to determine the strength and fighting ability of men around them simply by hearing their voices. A paper highlighting the researchers' findings appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The current research is part of a larger study examining the neurocognitive architecture in the human brain that recognizes and assesses physical strength and fighting ability. "People are well-designed to assess fighting ability," said Aaron Sell, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Barbara's Center for Evolutionary Psychology and the paper's lead author. "Our previous research shows how the mind uses visual cues to assess fighting ability. But now we have evidence that fighting ability can be detected through the voice. It is part of a complex system that natural selection designed to help our ancestors size up their opponents."

Regardless of whether respondents were asked to assess height, weight, strength, or fighting ability, they produced similar ratings that tracked upper body strength more than height and weight. Amazingly, respondents demonstrated the same degree of accuracy with unfamiliar languages and cultures as they did with their own. This study provides the first direct evidence that both men and women can accurately assess men's physical strength from the voice, and suggests that estimates of strength are used to assess fighting ability.

"We also learned that combining visual cues with voice cues offers a better predictor of actual strength than either one by itself," said Sell. "If you're looking at a guy with his shirt off, you can estimate his strength pretty well; if you can hear his voice as well, you'll get an even more accurate assessment of his strength. That means the voice contains some cues of strength that are invisible to the eye."

UCSB Alumni Association logo Membership | Online Community | Programs + Services | Giving | News + Events | Get Involved