Tag Archives: Spain

Spain set to try a four-day working week amid Covid-19 burnout

After a pandemic year, we’re all a bit tired and worn out. Looking for ways to address that, Spain has agreed to launch a pilot for companies interested in a four-day working week, becoming one of the first countries in the world to try the idea. The leftwing Spanish party Más Pais presented the proposal earlier this year to the national government, who has formally accepted it and will now take the first steps forward.

Iñigo Errejon of the Mas Pais party. Credit: Flickr / Wikipedia Commons

Working better, not more

Among the many things the coronavirus pandemic has affected, there’s also our work-life balance. Most people are simultaneously working from home while doing their day-to-day activities, with many reporting they actually work more than they did before the pandemic struck.

This has raised discussions over a four-day working week (an idea that has been around for over a century) as a way to increase productivity while improving the mental health of workers. 

“With the four-day workweek (32 hours), we’re launching into the real debate of our times,” said Iñigo Errejón of Más País on Twitter. “It’s an idea whose time has come. Spain is one of the countries where workers put in more hours than the European average. But we’re not among the most productive countries. Working more hours does not mean working better.”

Errejón’s party has proposed a $60 million project over the next three years, allowing companies to trial the reduced hours with minimal risk. The government would cover 100% of the costs the first year, 50% the second year, and 33% the third year. They estimate that around 200 companies will participate, with a total of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 workers. 

The pilot would start as early as autumn. It’s the first national initiative to reduce working hours since France started moving to a 35-hour-week in 1998. The party hopes to echo from the experience of Software Delsol, a Spanish company that became last year the first one to implement a four-day working week — which remarkably, lead to higher productivity and happier workers. 

A panel of experts will jointly run the pilot, including representatives from the government, business organizations, and workers unions. It’s a promising idea and it’s backed by science: studies seem to suggest that a four-day week can improve work quality and save money. But not everyone’s a fan.

Ricardo Mur, the leader of the country’s main business association, CEOE, has already described the proposal as “madness” due to the country’s recession.  “Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less,” Mur told a forum in December.

As Spain moves forward with its pilot, the idea is closely being followed around the world. In Japan, members of the Parliament have started discussion a proposal to allow workers to opt for a four-day working week. A group of companies have already implemented flexible working systems. Microsoft tried it and saw a 40% increase of productivity, for example. 

But not every experiment on fewer working hours has been successful. State employees in Utah began working from Monday to Thursday for 10 hours in 2008, hoping to cut down operating costs such as air conditioning and electricity. But it all ended in 2011, when Governor Gary Herbert vetoed the legislation after concluding the savings weren’t significant. 

Ancient woman may have ruled Bronze Age society in modern-day Spain

Silver diadem that adorned the skull of a woman in a 4,000-year-old grave. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

In the time of the Bronze Age — a period that stretches from 2200 BCE to 800 BCE when humans learned how to cast bronze — society was already rife with inequality. Hierarchies not only applied to social classes, but also to genders, with anthropologists generally agreeing that Bronze Age societies were patriarchal. But at least in the Iberian Peninsula, women — not men –may have reigned.

Inside a tomb uncovered in 2014, at a site known as La Almoloya in Spain, researchers have found the remains of a richly adorned woman. There are no written accounts or records that can identify her, but the evidence suggests she was a high-ranking member of her society and may have even been its ruler.

The tomb was found below a palace-like structure perched on a rocky hilltop. The structure was built by the El Argar culture, which represents the first true state to appear in the Iberian Peninsula.

La Almoloya site is found atop a rocky hill. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

From their foothold on the Murcia coast, established about 2200 BCE, the Argarians expanded rapidly along the west coast as far as the present-day border between Granada and Málaga provinces, northeast as far as Alicante and inland to cover the copper and silver deposits in the eastern end of the Sierra Morena. By 1700 BCE, the Argat state covered a land area of over 33,000 square kilometers.

Argarians employed technologies, pottery production, metalworking. They were also known for their intramural burial practices, that is, burials that took place within a building, normally the dwelling. Another burial custom was the placement of grave offerings, including a limited set of metal weapons, tools, and ornaments, as well as highly standardized and finely burnished clay vessels.

Both the building and burial objects can indicate the status of the people who were buried. And based on the artifacts found at Grave 38 — a princely tomb in the La Almoloya site containing the remains of two individuals, a male and female — this burial looks like it was meant for royalty.

Grave 38 was dug right beneath a relatively large room that lacked any artifacts you’d typically expect to find in a household, such as tools, pottery, or various cooking utensils. Instead, the room only contained some stone benches alongside its walls, which suggests it may have served as a place of governance.

The man was aged between 35 and 40 while the woman was between 25 and 30. Researchers don’t know how the pair died, but there were no signs of physical trauma so perhaps they may not have died violently. Genetic analysis showed that the two weren’t related but they formed a couple judging from the DNA of their daughter who died in infancy and was buried nearby.

The man and woman buried together at La Almoloya. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The man wore a copper bracelet and golden earlobe plugs — that’s pretty high status for the time. However, he looked like a serf in comparison with the woman, dubbed the “Princess of La Almoloya,” who wore several silver bracelets and rings, a beaded necklace, and a silver diadem adorning her skull.

The lavish jewelry suggests that it was, in fact, the woman who was of much higher status than the man. Perhaps she was the ruler of her society, which would challenge the idea that state power in the Bronze Age was exclusively in the hands of males.

Since there are no written records left from these times, researchers can only speculate. Maybe she was the wife of the king, or maybe he was the husband of the queen.

But it may very well be the latter, judging from other indirect evidence. In the journal Antiquity, archaeologists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona wrote that the graves of some Argar women were reopened generations later, a practice that likely conferred a great honor.

Earlier research also showed that elite Argarian women ate more meat than other women, suggesting that they may have had real political power. Other burials of high-status El Argar women also indicate great wealth, but men were never buried with such riches.

What’s more, the scientists compared the diadem found at La Almoloya with four others found at different tombs from the El Argar society, and found they were all very similar and very valuable.

So, there seems to be a pattern here suggesting that elite women in Argar culture were valued higher than men, or at least they were wealthier and, perhaps, by extension more powerful.

“In the Argaric society, women of the dominant classes were buried with diadems, while the men were buried with a sword and dagger. The funerary goods buried with these men were of lesser quantity and quality,” the researchers wrote in their study. “As swords represent the most effective instrument for reinforcing political decisions, El Argar dominant men might have played an executive role, even though the ideological legitimation as well as, perhaps, the government, had lain in some women’s hands.”

Orcas are orchestrating attacks on sailboats near Spain and Portugal, leaving scientists scratching their heads

The strange behavior of orcas on the waters around the Iberian Peninsula has raised concern among scientists. Several incidents have been reported, with orcas attacking vessels and causing serious damage in an unprecedented fashion.

Credit Flickr Michael Bamford

Over the last two months, sailors have reported worrying encounters with orcas, with two boats losing part of their rudders, a crew member suffering bruising from the impact and several boats sustaining severe damage. Spanish maritime authorities are asking vessels to keep a distance with the orcas to avoid any danger.

The latest episode occurred last week. The 36-foot sailboat Beautiful Dreamer, from the Halcyon Yachts company, was hit at least 15 times by several orcas until it lost its way and had to be towed to port. With three crew members of Finnish and British nationality, the boat had just left the port of Ferrol.

Earlier, on August 30, a distress call was recorded from a French-flagged ship claiming to be “under attack” by orcas. Also that day, the crew of the Mirfak sports sailboat, of the Spanish Navy, was surprised by the cetaceans, for reasons that are unknown, when they were sailing to participate in the Princes of Asturias regatta.

It is not uncommon to see orcas in the waters of the Iberian Peninsula between late August and early September, swimming behind shoals of tuna. What is strange is that they come so close to the boats, and more so with the violence of the episodes recorded in recent months, leaving researchers with open questions. While it’s still speculative, the orcas seem to be organizing the attacks on fishing vessels.

Orcas, the largest species in the dolphin family, are highly intelligent social mammals. They can be curious and follow a boat closely, but never with the force registered lately. While the answer isn’t clear yet, researchers believe the attacks could be related to the stress suffered by orcas by human activity in recent years.

Ken Balcomb, from the Whale Research Center, based in Washington, told RT this aggressiveness towards humans could be related to fishing and driven by the actions of fishermen, who also injure these animals with the fishing line when they try to feed on tuna. “I saw them [orcas] look at boats carrying fish. I think they know that humans are somehow related to food shortages,” said Balcomb.

The orcas of Gibraltar are in danger of extinction and it is estimated that there are only about 50 specimens left in the area. Their main source of food is tuna, the quantity of which is increasingly reduced by human fishing practices. In addition, the Strait of Gibraltar is considered by researchers as one of the worst places for the inhabitants of the ocean, since it is an important marine route, highly polluted, and with a lot of boat traffic.

But orcas have lived in such conditions for years and rarely attack people. Balcomb believes that the pandemic could have influenced the recent incidents, although this too is speculative. The absence, for two months, of fishing, whale watching, sailboats and sea ferries reduced the noise level to produce calm and tranquility in these animals. But the restart of all these activities, and with it the noise, could have caused the anger and aggressiveness.

Only 5% of Spain’s population has COVID antibodies, casting further doubt over herd immunity strategy

Despite being one of the worst-affected countries, only 5% of Spain’s population has developed antibodies to the novel coronavirus, according to a nationwide study of more than 60,000 people, which casted doubt on the feasibility of herd immunity as a way of tackling the pandemic.

Researchers from Harvard, MIT and several Spanish institutions analyzed findings from a widescale study on antibody prevalence in Spain, which is thought to be the largest of its kind on the coronavirus in Europe. Similar studies were done in China and the US, concluding that most of the population remained unexposed to the virus.

A total of 61,075 people participated in the study in Spain, done between April 27 and May 11. The participants had to answer a questionnaire on coronavirus symptoms and were given a point-of-care finger prick test, also having the option to donate blood to carry out more tests at the laboratory.

Only 5% of the participants presented with antibodies from point-of-care tests, while antibodies were detected in 4.6% of the blood samples, the study showed. At the same time, there was a large variability according to the location. Antibodies were found in 10% of the samples from Madrid but only 3% in those from coastal areas.

About a third of those who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies had been asymptomatic while infected with the virus. Among those who reported having been unwell with symptoms prior to the study, 16.9% tested positive for antibodies. Meanwhile, 90% of those who had tested positive more than 14 days before the study had antibodies detected in their lab-tested blood samples.

“Despite the high impact of Covid-19 in Spain, prevalence estimates remain low and are clearly insufficient to provide herd immunity,” the authors said. “This cannot be achieved without accepting the collateral damage of many deaths in the susceptible population and overburdening of health systems. In this situation, social distance measures and efforts to identify and isolate new cases and their contacts are imperative for future epidemic control.”

Herd immunity happens when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected. There are two paths to immunity, vaccines or natural infection.

Between 50% and 90% of a population must be immune to achieve herd immunity, depending on how contagious the disease is, according to experts at Johns Hopkins University. In the case of the novel coronavirus, they estimated that at least 70% of the population would have to be immune to reach herd immunity.

The health advisor to the White House Anthony Fauci said last month that if COVID-19 acted like other coronaviruses, there “likely isn’t going to be a long duration of immunity” from antibodies. Meanwhile, the WHO has said that it remains unclear whether those who have already caught the virus once will be immune to getting it again.

The study was published in The Lancet.

The situation in Spain

Spain has already reported more than 251,700 cases of coronavirus and 28,388 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The country has the third-highest number of deaths related to population in the world, with 607 deaths per million people, according to Our World in Data.

While it was one of the first countries to be hit in Europe, the situation started to stabilize with single figures in daily fatalities for most of the past three weeks. However, officials in the north-western region of Galicia have re-imposed restrictions on an area of 70,000 people following an outbreak. Officials linked local outbreaks to bars in the area.

The autonomous government of Catalonia re-imposed on Saturday controls on an area of 210,000 residents after a sharp rise in infections there. Catalan President Quim Torra said no-one would be allowed to enter or leave Segrià, a district west of Barcelona that includes the city of Lleida.

Spain is buying robots to increase coronavirus tests

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Spain does between 15,000 and 20,000 tests daily. But with a growing amount of cases, they are not enough. Carrying out as many tests as possible is key to stopping the outbreak from escalating. That’s why Spain is studying its options.

Credit Spain Health Ministry

The government is now finalizing the purchase of four robots that will allow up to 80,000 more diagnostic tests per day. The robots will not only quadruple the number of tests done daily but also reduce the risk of exposure and infection of those that have to carry out the tests.

“A plan to automate tests through robots has been already designed, and Spain has committed to buying four robots that will allow us to execute 80,000 tests per day,” said Raquel Yotti, the head of the Madrid-based Health Institute Carlos III, at a press conference.

The Spanish government has so far provided no details on how the machines will work. As well as automatizing the process, the health authorities are working with Spanish firms to accelerate the manufacturing of tests, having already bought 640.000 from them that were distributed across the country.

When the robots are deployed, they will join a growing range of robots tackling the pandemic across the globe. When the US identified the first infected patient, professionals from the Everett Regional Medical Center (Washington) used a robot to communicate with him.

The device, developed by the company InTouch Health, has a screen, speakers, a microphone, and a stethoscope. In addition, it allows basic tests such as temperature measurement. In China, at the Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital, robots have been used to open and close doors and take the elevator autonomously to deliver drugs to patients.

Outside of hospitals, there are also different examples. Chinese urbanization has used a drone with thermal cameras to measure the temperature of the neighbors without having to leave their homes. In some hotels in China, an autonomous robot called Peanut has been tasked with bringing food to quarantined people.

Spain surpassed China in the number of deaths from coronavirus, reaching 3,434 deaths, compared to 3,281 in the Asian country, according to figures from the Spanish Ministry of Health. New deaths from the pandemic in Spain were 738 in the last 24 hours, a new daily maximum.

The number of infected in the country reached 47,610 cases, with an increase of 20% compared to the previous day. In addition, there are 3,166 patients in intensive care units, 17.4% more. The country is currently under lockdown until April 11 to try to stop the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus cases in Spain: maps, charts, stats, and news

What are the COVID-19 symptoms?

COVID-19 manifests itself through flu-like symptoms. Fever (88%) and dry cough (68%) are, at this moment, the two most common symptoms. Other common symptoms include thick mugus coughed from lungs, shortness of breath, muscle pain, sore throat, headaches, and chills.

What can I do to help?

The most important thing is to self isolate. Even if you are not afraid of the disease, even if you are healthy and not at risk, you can still become a vector of transmission. To protect the most vulnerable ones, it’s important to limit the number of infection.
There might be local support groups in your community where you can help. Blood centers are in need of donations. Stay informed, be prepared, but don’t panic — we shall get through this together.

Coronavirus news from Spain

April 1, 2020

  • The number of cases of coronavirus in Spain surpassed 100,000, while the number of fatalities reported overnight reached a new record at 864

March 31, 2020

  • Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose by 849 cases overnight to 8,189, the highest jump in fatalities since the start of the epidemic, the health ministry said.
  • Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez has proposed increasing the European Union’s budget to address the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

March 30, 2020

  • Spain’s total number of coronavirus cases rose to 85,195 from 78,797 on Sunday, the country’s health ministry said, as the infections surpassed China, which reported 81,470, according to the latest data.
  • Spain’s health emergency chief Fernando Simon, who leads the country’s response to the coronavirus epidemic and maintains regular contact with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has tested positive for the virus.

March 27, 2020

  • At least 4,858 people have died from coronavirus in Spain, with 64,059 cases recorded, according to Spanish Health Ministry data.

March 26, 2020

  • Spain’s burden surpasses China’s.
  • It is one of the most trying times in Spain’s modern history, as the country seems poised to overtake Italy in the number of cases.
  • Tests purchased from China prove ineffective in detecting COVID-19.
  • Tennis superstar Rafael Nadal starts fundraiser, calls on athletes to donate to support the country in this dire challenge.

March 25, 2020

  • Spain has recorded more than 700 deaths over the past 24 hours, surpassing China in the total death toll, making the country now second to only Italy.
  • Spain has signed a multi-million dollar contract with China to acquire medical supplies to fight the coronavirus epidemic, Health Minister Salvador Illa has said.     

March 24, 2020

  • The coronavirus death toll in Spain has jumped by 514 in a single day, as the situation in the country quickly worsens.
  • Official figures show that 2,696 people have now died in the country and close to 40,000 are infected.
  • About 5,400 health care workers are among those confirmed cases.
  • The Spanish army has found elderly people abandoned in several nursing homes, raising alarm for those most vulnerable.
  • The bodies of Covid-19 victims are being delivered to an ice rink that is being used as a temporary morgue in Madrid.

March 23, 2020

  • Spanish authorities expect the so-called “peak” of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country to happen as soon as Wednesday.
  • Spain exceeded 2,000 deaths from coronavirus, with 462 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total balance to 2,182, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
  • However, the situation continues to worsen, as authorities struggle to contain the outbreak.
  • Spain just opened a massive coronavirus field hospital in a convention center.
  • Spain hails first-line doctors bearing the brunt of the disease.
  • All sporting events suspended until further notice — yes, that includes football.

March 22, 2020

  • Spain to extend state of emergency as officials announce “worst is yet to come”.
  • Forecasts suggest outbreak peak not yet reached.
  • Coronavirus: Spain PM warns ‘very hard days ahead’.
  • Spanish newspaper AS reports on the Spanish situation.

March 21, 2020

March 20, 2020

March 19, 2020

  • The king’s speech on COVID-19 was heckled with banging from pots and pans. The public protest was a response to the US$100 million in bribes that Felipe’s father reportedly received from the former King of Saudi Arabia.
  • Google Messages now supports RCS in Spain. Here’s what that means.
  • Cases go up by 30% in 24 hours.
  • Spanish officials promise support for nursing homes.
  • Spain urges massive EU fiscal response for the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Spain to close all hospitality accommodation.
  • An interesting essay: “We’re struggling with coronavirus in Spain, but we’re more prepared than in the US.”

Coronavirus Information

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that first appeared in January in Wuhan, China, has spread to Germany, along with over 150 other countries. The virus causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, which causes flu-like symptoms such as dry cough, fever, runny nose and fatigue. There have also been reports of difficulties breathing, an itchy throat, headaches, joint pains, nausea, diarrhea, and shivering.

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person through infected respiratory droplets, such as saliva or mucus. Transmission can take place indirectly through contact between hands and the mucous membranes of the mouth, the nose or the conjunctiva of the eyes. 

There are many things we still don’t know about this infection, but it seems to be highly contagious and much more dangerous than the flu, particularly to people suffering from preexisting health conditions or in advanced age. This is still a rapidly unfolding situation.

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A new study looked at how early complex European cultures farmed and ate

New research is shedding light onto the social and agricultural customs of early Bronze Age societies.

Map showing the maximum territorial extension of the El Argar culture with locations of the analyzed sites (La Bastida and Gatas)
Image credits Corina Knipper et al., (2020), PLOS One.

The El Agar society is known from a site in the south-western corner of the Iberian peninsula (today’s Spain). It is believed, however, that it held cultural and political sway over a larger area during its day, from 2200-1550 cal BCE. It also developed sophisticated pottery and ceramics, which they traded with other tribes in the Mediterranean region.

New research based on El Agar gravesites and the layouts of their settlements reports that it was likely a strongly-hierarchical society that revolved around complex, “monumentally fortified” hilltop settlements. The findings showcase the potential use of including trophic (food) analysis in anthropology, and help to reveal the complexity that societies in this period could achieve.

Farming for success

“It is essential to not only investigate human remains, but also comparative samples of different former food stuffs as well as to interpret the data in the light of the archaeological and social historical context,” explains Dr. Corina Knipper from the Curt Engelhorn Center Archaeometry, the paper’s lead author.

The team used carbon dating and nitrogen isotope analysis on artefacts recovered from two El Algar hilltop settlements: a large fortified urban site (La Bastida, in today’s Murcia region) and a smaller settlement at Gatas (in today’s Almería region). The samples analyzed include remains from 75 different individuals across all social levels, 28 domestic animal and wild deer bones, 75 grains of charred barley and 29 grains of charred wheat. All the samples hail from the middle to late El Algar civilization.

The findings showed no significant difference in isotope values between males and females, which is indicative of the fact that both genders shared similar diets. However, the team did find a difference between individual social strata — remains from individuals that made up the elite of La Bastida showed higher levels of both carbon and nitrogen than their peers. This could be indicative of individuals here eating more animal-based products (nitrogen concentrates the farther up you go along the food chain). However, the team further reported that while the nitrogen values for barley were similar at both sites, domestic animals at La Bastida showed higher nitrogen values. This means that the same general diet at both sites could still have resulted in the different nitrogen levels seen.

The latter view is further strengthened by the finding that these communities relied heavily on cereal farming, which they only supplemented with livestock. Analysis of the wheat and barley suggests that the landscape they grew in were dry and unirrigated, but likely fertilized with animal manure, judging from the high nitrogen levels they contain. Cereals and their by-products also seem to have provided most of the forage of domesticated animals (sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs).

The study is based on a small sample size, which limits the reliability of the results. However, it does highlight the role trophic chain analysis plays in helping archeologists piece together the past from human remains. It also goes a long way to show that El Algar farmers had developed relatively sophisticated practices for their time, which allowed them to feed a thriving community.

The paper “Reconstructing Bronze Age diets and farming strategies at the early Bronze Age sites of La Bastida and Gatas (southeast Iberia) using stable isotope analysis” has been published in the journal PLOS One.

Mainland Spain ran a full day without burning coal

Spain, one of the world’s leaders in terms of renewable energy generation, met its electricity demand without any input from coal-fired power plants for a full day. The developments follow a trend of decarbonization in the country, which is seen as an example for the rest of the world.

Credit: Pixabay.

The nation’s first day without any coal occurred from 23:50 local time on December 13 until 21:20 on December 15, making December 14 a full day without any coal-fired plants sending electricity to the national grid. The achievement only covered the peninsular system as Spain’s non-mainland area of the Balearic islands continued to use electricity from coal.

On that faithful day, coal power was scheduled to deliver 252MWh of energy, however, a peak in wind power generation, which hit an hourly average of 16.41GW, encouraged utilities to decouple coal for the day.

Spain, which receives ample sunlight and has an extensive solar energy capacity, nearly didn’t need coal during the summer. However, due to technical constraints in the distribution network in the northern region of Asturias, the country could not go coal-free during this timeframe. Even so, it used very little fossil fuels to generate electricity last summer — only one of 25 coal-fired power units in mainland Spain operated for several days during the summer.

The country has many ambitious plans for the future. Last year, the government announced its intention to go fully-renewable by 2050 while also scrapping a controversial “sun tax” that hampered the country’s booming renewable energy sector.

Giant geode large enough to fit people inside grew slow and steady

A researcher stands inside the Pulpí geode. Credit: Hector Garrido

recent study in Geology proposed that a slow and steady process grew the meter-sized gypsum crystals inside the giant geode of Pulpí. Temperature fluctuations from thousands of years ago ripened the crystals and made them literally crystal clear.

“Giant crystals are scarce,” said coauthor Juan Manuel García-Ruiz, a professor at the Universidad de Granada in Spain. The Pulpí geode is “an ovoid, an egg-shape cavity in the rock lined with crystals. But its size is 11 cubic meters, the largest [geode] in the world.”

Rare in Size and Clarity

The Pulpí geode was discovered in 1999 in Mina Rica, a former silver mine in Almería, Spain. Its gypsum crystals are up to 2 meters in size and are so clear and pure you can see the rock behind them.

Lines in the Pulpí geode’s clear gypsum crystals track growth periods. Credit: Hector Garrido.

It’s taken a while to figure out the geode’s origins because “the hydrothermal system in the origin of these crystals was exhausted,” García-Ruiz said. Most areas that have grown giant gypsum crystals are attached to inactive hydrothermal systems, the team wrote, with the exception of the Cave of Crystals in Naica in Mexico.

Without an active hydrothermal system to help unravel the geode’s origin, “we realized that we needed to unveil the geological history of the mine,” he said.

The researchers found that the rock that encompasses the geode is made of layered carbonate from the Triassic period (201–251 million years ago). The geode, however, is only between 60 thousand and 2 million years old.

“The exact [formation] date is still unknown,” García-Ruiz said. “The crystals are so pure that radiometric methods cannot measure their age.”

Low Temperature, Slow Drip

Those large crystals, however, did trap a few fluid inclusions that retained information about conditions at the time the crystals formed. The team measured the sulfur and oxygen isotope ratios of those inclusions and found that the gypsum likely stabilized at a temperature of about 20°C.

That’s much lower than the maximum soluble temperature for gypsum (45°C), which suggests that the crystals grew over a long period of time from a slow, steady drip of a concentrated calcium sulfate solution. With a relatively stable temperature, many smaller gypsum crystals dissolved to form fewer, larger ones in a process called Ostwald ripening.“Temperature fluctuations amplified the mechanism, resulting in these astonishing transparent gypsum crystals.”However, “Ostwald maturation for large crystals has not yet [been] experimentally demonstrated,” said lead author Àngels Canals of the Universitat de Barcelona in Spain. “We propose that temperature fluctuations amplified the mechanism, resulting in these astonishing transparent gypsum crystals.” If the gypsum formed around 20°C, it was likely much closer to the surface than it is today, the team argued, so the temperature fluctuations may have been caused by a shifting climate.

Mike Rogerson, an Earth system scientist at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the research, told National Geographic that surface temperature changes might not have reached belowground. It’s more likely that the geode’s now inactive geothermal system created the temperature fluctuations, he said. Either way, he was excited to see the team delve into the geologic history of this popular tourist destination.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

This article originally appeared in Eos magazine and was republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.

Madrid wants to get rid of parakeets, now threatening native species

The thousands of bright green monk parakeets that screech through Madrid’s skies could soon be gone as the city council has unveiled a plan to reduce their number, now estimated at 12.000.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The parakeets, also known as Argentine parrots, are native to South America, but many were kept as pets in Spain before ownership became illegal in 2011. Many of them escaped, or were released from captivity, and are now prolific in Madrid, as well as a number of other areas in Spain (and, to a lesser extent, other cities in Europe).

The growing population brings a set of problems to the city. The birds, considered an invasive species in Spain, are noisy, messy, and are certainly ruffling the feathers of local residents, who have already filed 197 complaints about the birds this year, and 209 in 2018.

The birds also build nests that can reach a whopping 200 kilograms (441 lb), which could pose a threat to Madrid’s citizens if they were to fall, authorities claim. The parakeets are also thought to threaten biodiversity in the city by competing for food, and damaging vegetation while building their nests.

The city authorities are working with the Spanish Ornithological Society, SEO Birdlife, and have announced plans to begin “humane slaughter” and egg sterilization over the coming months. Borja Carabante, the council’s environmental representative, said the birds “have become a worry for people and we’ve had a lot of complaints.”

Carabante says the plan will be carried out in accordance with the animal welfare law, but the exact details have yet to be finalized. The environmental head explained that not all of the monk parakeets in Madrid will be culled, as stipulated by the law, but says that a population of up to 600 birds “would cause minimal or acceptable” damage.

Santiago Soria, head of the council’s Biodiversity and Inventory Service, said that the objective was not to eliminate the whole parrot population, but explained that without intervention it would continue to grow. “The spirit of the law is to do no damage to our wildlife,” Soria told media.

The southern cities of Malaga and Seville have also proposed measures to cull their parakeet populations. But such moves have been met with strong opposition from animal rights groups, who argue that numbers can be controlled through non-lethal methods such as contraception.

In Argentina, where they originally come from, parakeets are a common sight in many of the country’s main cities such as Buenos Aires. They are easily spotted in public parks where they nest, and they are sold as pets in pet shops.

Fox.

Bronze-age Iberians included domesticated foxes and dogs in their burial practices

Fox.

I mean, who wouldn’t domesticate this guy?!
Image via Pixabay.

By the third and second millennia BC, humans in today’s Spain often included animals in their tombs. The practice left us evidence of fox domestication by this time.

If you ever wanted a fox for a pet (be honest, we all do), you’ll be really envious of the Iberian peoples of the Early- to Middle-Bronze Age. Four foxes and a large number of dogs found at the Can Roqueta (Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida) sites showcase their widespread practice of burying people alongside domestic animals. The findings also give us a glimpse into how these people and their animals lived, as well as their close relationships.

Foxy fur babies

Last week we saw how stone-age communities in roughly the same area of modern Spain included dogs in their funeral practices. Today, let’s take a look at how these practices evolved over time.

“We discovered that in some cases the dogs received a special kind of food. We believe this is linked to their function as working dogs. Besides, one of the foxes shows signs of having already been a domestic animal in those times,” says Aurora Grandal-d’Anglade, first author of the study.

Human remains found at these sites were buried in large silos along with dogs and a few foxes, the team reports. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis (performed on bone collagen), in addition to several other methods, allowed the researchers to piece together the diet of both the animals and their owners. The team looked at 37 dogs, 19 domestic ungulates, and 64 humans.

Study area.

Map of the study area showing Can Roqueta, Minferri and other sites cited in the text: (1) Bòbila Madurell, (2) Can Gambús, (3) Pinetons, (4) Mas d’en Boixos, and (5) Cantorella.
Image credits Grandal-d’Anglade et al., 2019, Arch. and Anth. Sciences.

The dogs tended to have comparable diets to that of the humans. The foxes had a more varied menu: in some cases, it closely resembled the dogs’, while others ate pretty much what wild animals with little human contact would eat.

Such diets suggest that the animals were already domesticated and relied on humans for food. Further evidence of the close ties these handlers formed with their pets comes from the remains of a fox retrieved at Can Roqueta.

“The case of the Can Roqueta fox is very special, because it is an old animal, with a broken leg. The fracture is still in its healing process, and shows signs of having been immobilized (cured) by humans. The feeding of this animal is very unusual, as it is more akin to a puppy dog’s. We interpret it as a domestic animal that lived for a long time with humans,” Grandal explains.

Some larger dogs — in particular those found at Con Roqueta — seem to have been fed a cereal-rich mix, as was at least one fox involved in the study. The team also reports findings signs of spinal column disorder in these specimens, suggesting they were used as pack animals. Their diet, then, directly reflected their role in the community — it’s not easy being a pack animal, and a high-carbohydrate diet gave them the calories needed to perform the task.

“It may seem strange that dogs were basically fed with cereals, but this was already recommended by the first-century Hispano-Roman agronomist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, in his work De re rustica,” says Silvia Albizuri Canadell, an archaeozoologist at the University of Barcelona and co-author of the study.

Unsurprisingly, other animals such as cows, sheep, or goats found in the graves had a herbivorous diet. Their role was likely to provide humans with food (milk, meat) or materials such as leather or wool — not labor. Factor in that the horse wasn’t known in these societies until much later, and the role of dogs as pack animals becomes more understandable. Dogs also served as an integral part of their communities’ economic pursuits by guiding herds and offering protection from wild animals. They likely obtained animal proteins from human leftovers.

In general, the team adds, both humans and dogs likely ate mostly plant matter, with some (but not a lot of) animal proteins, but “not necessarily much meat; they could be, for example, derived from milk,” according to Grandal. The men of these communities do stand out as incorporating more meat in their diets compared to women and children. Dogs’ diets were more similar to that of women and children, the team also found, suggesting that they  were more linked to […] domestic environments.”

“The characteristics of dogs include their great intelligence, easy trainability and, undoubtedly, their defensive behaviour. As if that were not enough, this animal was used until the nineteenth century AD in North America, Canada and Europe for light transport on its back and for dragging carts and sleds. It also functioned as a pack animal on the Peninsula during the Bronze Age,” says co-author Albizuri Canadell.

Some archaeological specimens from North America also show bone disorders that stem from the pulling of ‘travois’ (a type of sledge). Similar pathologies have also been recently identified in the vertebrae of Siberian Palaeolithic dogs.

All in all, the findings illustrate the role dogs played as transport animals in the first migrations and human movements through glacial Europe. These animals likely played a fundamental and much more important role in their communities than believed until recently, the team writes.

Animals may have also served as a type of status symbol. The team found significant variation in the funeral treatment of different members of the studied communities. In one case, the team found “the body of an old man with the remains of a whole cow and the legs of up to seven goats,” while a young woman was buried with “the offering of a whole goat, two foxes, and a bovine horn.” Yet another individual uncovered in a different funeral complex was laid to rest with the whole bodies of two bovines and two dogs.

“We still don’t know why only a few people would have had the right or privilege to be buried with this type of offering, unlike what happens with the vast majority of burials,” explains co-author Ariadna Nieto Espinet.

“[…] these could be an indicator of the wealth of the deceased individual or of his clan or family,” she argues. “It seems that species such as bovines and dogs, two of the most recurring animals in funeral offerings, are those that might have played a fundamental role in the economy and work as well as in the symbolic world, becoming elements of ostentation, prestige and protection”.

The paper “Dogs and foxes in Early-Middle Bronze Age funerary structures in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula: human control of canid diet at the sites of Can Roqueta (Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida)” has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Wind Power.

Spain is poised to go fully-renewable by 2050

Siestas and windmills are a natural pairing in my book.

Wind Power.

Image credits Peter Wiegel.

Spain’s government has announced an ambitious plan: the country’s grid will go fully-renewable by 2050. This radical de-carbonization of its economy over the next 30 years will reduce its greenhouse emissions by a whopping 90% (as compared to 1990 levels).

Poder verde

The plan comes as part of Spain’s draft climate change and energy transition law. The current government is committed to installing at least 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy, per year, for the next 10 years. It’s a monumental undertaking.

Officials also stated that they’ll ban new licenses for fossil fuel drills, hydrocarbon exploitations, and fracking wells. One-fifth of the state budget will also be earmarked for measures that will curb climate change. This sum will increase from 2025 onwards.

The Spanish government has also scrapped a controversial “sun tax” that hampered the country’s booming renewable energy sector.

The draft law is “an excellent example of the Paris agreement,” says former executive secretary of the UN’s framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres. “It sets a long-term goal, provides incentives on scaling up emissions technologies and cares about a good transition for the workforce.”

Writing for The Guardian, Arthur Neslen says “just transition” contracts are planned to shut down most of Spain’s coal exploitations — the government’s offer includes early retirement packages, training for clean energy jobs, and environmental restoration.

Absolutely no mention of washing coal to clean it up. Surprising, huh?

Funds for all these planned projects will be sourced (at least in part) from the sale of emissions rights, which the government plans to set for auction.

The new law mandates the Kingdom of Spain to reach a 35% electricity share for green energy by 2030. A 35% increase in energy efficiency is also planned by that year. Officials also said that government and public sector authorities will only be allowed to lease buildings that are close to being energy self-sufficient.

However, Spain’s government isn’t particularly well-entrenched and thus will need to rely on votes from their opposition to pass the bill. I hope they succeed — fingers crossed.

Portugal and Spain brace for record-breaking temperatures

Amid a scorching-hot summer spanning almost all of the northern hemisphere, Portugal and Spain are preparing for temperatures that could break not only the national record — but a record for the entire continent.

Forecast via Euronews.

Spain’s current record high is 47.3°C (117.14°F) and Portugal can boast a slightly-higher highest temperature, at 47.4°C. But all that may soon change, as current weather models forecast significantly higher temperatures. It’s not out of the question for Portugal to reach a groundbreaking 50°C, surpassing not only the national record but also the European record, which is currently at 48°C (recorded in Athens, Greece, in July 1977).

The probable maximum is set for Saturday, in the southern parts of Portugal and south-western parts of Spain. Met Office forecaster Sophie Yeomans says that the heatwave is directly connected to “a plume of very dry, hot air from Africa.” Although it’s unlikely for temperatures to go over 50°C, records may very well be broken, Yeomans says.

“There’s an outside chance of hitting 50C,” said Yeomans. “If somewhere gets the right conditions, it could do [it] but that’s a very low likelihood.”

Other forecasters have echoed this prognosis.

“Friday and Saturday are likely to be the hottest days with a very real chance of breaking records,” the forecaster of Meteogroup said.

The Spanish meteorology agency, AEMET, has issued an official warning of extreme temperatures, and authorities are already making emergency preparations for the dramatic heatwave. Some 11,000 firefighters and 56 aircraft have already been deployed and are on standby to tackle forest fires — that are likely to emerge in the searing heat.

Iberia, the peninsula hosting the two countries, is not the only area suffering from extreme heat. Scandinavia, an area known for its frigid temperatures, is reporting record highs, Greece is ravaged by wildfires, and most parts of France and Germany have been scorching for months. Aside from some mountainous areas and northern latitudes, few areas have been spared.

Most of Europe is under a heatwave. It’s hard to say that it’s global warming — but it sure walks and quacks like global warming.

Although it’s very difficult to assign a global trend to individual events, there is already substantial evidence that climate change is connected to these record temperatures. Recent studies have shown that man-made climate change is making heatwaves much more likely and, as was the case in previous years, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that current temperatures and global warming are not connected.

Although record-breaking temperatures are not the norm yet, it’s becoming increasingly plausible that this will be the case in the very near future. The evidence is indicating that climate change is increasingly affecting our lives, whether we care to admit it or not.

Excavation sites.

Neandethals in Spain outlived their kin by thousands of years thanks to a big river and an Italian volcano

Neanderthals in Spain lived on for at least 3,000 years after their relatives had died out everywhere else, new research found. The work suggests that human evolution wasn’t a continuous, streamlined process — rather, a “stop-and-go, punctuated, geographically uneven” one.

Stone tools.

Blank production and diagnostic stone tools from the the Mula basin sites.
Image credits Zilhão J. et al., 2017, Heliyon.

The researchers, composed of members from Portugal, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Italy, say their findings point to an alternating and uneven history of human evolution. The team spent over ten years in the field, excavating three new Neanderthal sites in southern Spain, where they discovered evidence of “distinctly Neanderthal materials” dating roughly 37,000 years ago.

Ok, so what?

It’s a thrilling discovery since that’s thousands of years later than the last signs we’ve found of Neanderthals anywhere in western Europe.

“Technology from the Middle Paleolithic in Europe is exclusively associated with the Neanderthals,” said lead author Dr. João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona. “Even in the adjacent regions of northern Spain and southern France the latest Neanderthal sites are all significantly older.”

The Middle Paleolithic is a sub-division of the stone age, spanning from 300,000 to about 30,000 years ago. This is about the time when anatomically modern humans started migrating out of Africa and integrating with other human species already inhabiting Eurasia — including the Neanderthals.

The process was widely believed to be a continuous process — our ancestors would move in and the locals would be thrilled and start to date them, then some would move on and so on. According to Zilhão’s team, however, this wasn’t the case. Interbreeding was a much more punctual affair, with different evolutionary patterns in different geographical regions.

The paper draws on evidence recovered from three sites across the Mula basin, Spain: Cueva Antón, a cave located in the Mula River valley, as well as Finca Doña Martina and Abrigo de La Boja, two rock-shelters located in the Rambla Perea. The artifacts include stone tools and evidence of their production and use, such as stone cores, stone flakes, débitage (waste from stone tools manufacturing), as well as charcoal. The items were dating using radiocarbon and stratigraphy methods (where possible), revealing that Neanderthals inhabited the region, and overwhelmingly likely all of modern-day Spain, until approximately 37,000 years ago.

Excavation sites.

The Mula basin sites. a) Location of the late Middle Paleolithic sites of Southern and Western Iberia and Ebro basin (1. Cueva Antón; 2. Sima de las Palomas; 3. Gorham’s Cave; 4. Gruta da Oliveira; 5. Foz do Enxarrique).
Image credits Zilhão J. et al., 2017, Heliyon.

The river Ebro likely played a part in keeping Iberian populations isolated from encroaching humans. The explosion of the Phlegraean Fields caldera some 39,850 years ago, with the “population sink it generated in Central and Eastern Europe” and the climatic changes it induced, would have increased the biogeographical divide represented by the river, further stalling the Neandertal/modern human admixture front.

Cueva Antón, they add, is the most recent known site inhabited by Neanderthals in Europe.

The findings showcase the step-by-step process through which anatomically modern humans and preexisting human populations interbred and assimilated throughout Europe — and likey everywhere else, too.

“We believe that the stop-and-go, punctuated, uneven mechanism we propose must have been the rule in human evolution, which helps explaining why Paleolithic material culture tends to form patterns of geographically extensive similarity while Paleolithic genomes tend to show complex ancestry patchworks,” Dr. Zilhão adds.

Ornamental shells.

Ornamental shell across the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in the Mula basin sites.
Image credits Zilhão J. et al., 2017, Heliyon.

They are also important in the wider context of stone-age archaeological findings in the Iberian Peninsula:

“A corollary of these findings,” the team writes, “carries implications for the authorship of all other aspects of these regions’ archeological record. For instance, given their dating and archeological associations, there can be no question that the painted/perforated shells from Cueva Antón and Cueva de los Aviones, as well as the abstract engraving and ornamental use of raptor feathers documented at Gorham’s Cave, stand for manifestations of Neandertal symbolism.”

He explains that there is still a lot we don’t know about human evolution, the Neanderthals in particular. Most of what we do know comes from populations in France, Germany, and central Europe, but Zilhão comments that during the Ice Age these were “peripheral areas.” It’s likely that over half of the Europeans who lived during the Paleolithic were Iberians, he adds, meaning we’re missing a big chunk of the picture here. An image that ongoing research is trying to piece together, but one that will require ” discovering and analyzing new sites, not in revisiting old ones,” Dr. Zilhão believes.

The paper “Precise dating of the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in Murcia (Spain) supports late Neandertal persistence in Iberia” has been published in the journal Heliyon.

Study documents accelerated climate change in Spanish mountains

The Iberian Peninsula in Europe has been experiencing accelerated warming in the past century, and the Pyrenees were not spared.

The Pyrenees are not spared from climate change. Image credits: lotokoto / Pixabay.

If you want to see climate change in action in a civilized place (as opposed to the Arctic wilderness), Spain is the place to go. Spain has been hot since the end of the ice age, but in recent decades, it’s getting hotter and hotter. In the past three decades alone, temperatures have risen by 2.5 °C in Spain, surpassing the European average of 0.95°C. However, warming doesn’t happen in a uniform fashion, and researchers wanted to see how the country’s northern mountains are affected.

A team from Rovira i Virgili University’s Centre for Climate Change collected hundreds of climate series from meteorological observatories on the southern side of the Central Pyrenees, covering a period from 1910 to 2013; it’s the most extensive such study ever carried out in the area. The findings show a worrying trend of rising temperatures, at about 0.11 °C per decade.

“However this change is particularly marked in the most recent period (1970 to 2013), when maximum temperature rose by over half a degree per decade (0.57 °C per decade),” Núria Pérez-Zanón, the lead author of the study, said.

The data were calibrated, evaluated, and processed to eliminate any bias not related to climate change.

“Individual series were subject to strict daily and monthly quality control to detect anomalous values, as well as homogeneity adjustments to minimise bias introduced by non-climate-related changes, such as location, modifications to the surroundings, or the equipment itself,” says Pérez-Zanón.

Of course, this type of change carries a cascade of effects. Between 1950 and 2013, the percentage of hot years doubled, while the percentage of cold years decreased by half. This seems to be accentuating more and more in recent times, with 18 of the past 20 years being classified as ‘hot.’ Scientists also showed that both the minimum and the maximum temperatures have been going up. Researchers also tried to see if there was any correlation between the temperatures and the precipitations. A decrease was observed, but it wasn’t significant enough to draw any definitive conclusions.

Overall, the conclusions are pretty clear. We knew that climate change was happening, we knew that it was even worse than average in Spain and the Pyrenees. Sometimes, mountain areas are somewhat shielded from climate change due to their own microclimate, but this isn’t the case here.

Journal Reference: Pérez-Zanón, Núria; Sigro, Javier; Ashcroft, Linden. “Temperature and precipitation regional climate series over the central Pyrenees during 1910-2013” International Journal of Climatology 37 (4): 1922-1937 DOI: 10.1002/joc.4823 March 30th 2017.

Skin impression of one of the last dinosaurs found in Spain

Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) working in collaboration with the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), have discovered an impression fossil preserving a Late Cretaceous dinosaur’s skin texture. This marks the time right before their extinction, making the fossil a unique discovery in Europe.

The dinosaur skin impression found at the site.
Image credits Víctor Fondevilla / UAB.

While performing a geological survey near the village of Vallcebre near Barcelona to study the origins of Late Cretaceous rock sediments (roughly 66 millions of years old), researchers found the impression of a dinosaur’s scales. They suspect the fossil formed when the animal had laid down in the mud, as the area corresponded to the muddy banks of a river during that time. The imprint was covered with sand which lithified into sandstone, preserving the relief of the animal’s original skin.

The Late Cretaceous ended with the extinction of the dinosaurs due to a violent meteorite impact. As such, there are very few places on Earth where intact sandstone deposits can be found from this period, making the find unique. Finding data to characterize these late dinosaurs is very important in understanding how they dealt with the extreme conditions and why they disappeared.

“This is the only registry of dinosaur skin from this period in all of Europe, and it corresponds to one of the most recent specimens, closer to the extinction event, in all of the world,” highlights UAB researcher Victor Fondevilla, main author of the research. “There are very few samples of fossilised skin registered, and the only sites with similar characteristics can be found in United States and Asia.”

“Other dinosaur skin fossils have been found in the Iberian Peninsula, in Portugal and Asturias, but they correspond to other more distant periods,” he adds.

The fossil shows scales in a pattern characteristic to some carnivorous dinosaurs and hadrosaurs: a central polygon-like bump surrounded by fire or six more bumps in the form of a rose. But the scales are too large compared to the typical size found in the dinosaurs roaming the area 66 million years ago.

“The fossil probably belongs to a large herbivore sauropod, maybe a titanosaurus, since we discovered footprints from the same species very close to the rock with the skin fossil,” Fondevilla says.

In fact, two skin impressions were found, one measuring approximately 20 centimeter wide, and the other slightly smaller, measuring only 5 centimeter wide, separated by a 1.5 meter distance and probably made by the same animal.

“The fact that they are impression fossils is evidence that the animal is from the sedimentary rock period, one of the last dinosaurs to live on the planet. When bones are discovered, dating is more complicated because they could have moved from the original sediment during all these millions of years,” Fondevilla adds.

The find will allow scientists to better recreate the dinosaurs before their extinction.

“The sites in Berguedà, Pallars Jussà, Alt Urgell and La Noguera, in Catalonia, have provided proof of five different groups of dinosaurs: titanosaurs, ankylosaurids, theropods, hadrosaurs and rhabdodontids,” explains Àngel Galobart, head of the Mesozoic research group at the ICP and director of the Museum of Conca Dellà in Isona.

“The sites in the Pyrenees are very relevant from a scientific point of view, since they allow us to study the cause of their extinction in a geographic point far away from the impact of the meteorite.”

The full paper “Skin impressions of the last European dinosaurs” has been published in the journal Geological Magazine.

It’s the Motherload: $17 Billion in Loot Found on Sunken Galleon off Colombian Coast

A ship missing for over 300 years has been rediscovered, according to Colombian authorities – a boat with an estimated $17 billion in loot.

The San Jose blowing up. Image via Wikipedia.

San José was a 60-gun, 3-masted galleon of the Spanish Navy. It was launched in 1698, and was sunk in the battle off the coast of Cartagena in 1708, during a succession war. The war was fought between Spanish forces loyal to the Hapsburg Dynasty and those loyal to Prince Phillip, the next in line for succession. It’s estimated that the ship carried around 10 million pesos at the time, which brings the total estimated value of the haul to be up to $17 billion.

“Without room for any doubt, we have found, 307 years after it sank, the San Jose galleon,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced at a press conference on Saturday, claiming it for his country (what year is it again?).

However, this hasn’t yet been confirmed by an external scientific body, and the excavation could take years to come. The Colombian government is already treating it as a state secret though, to avoid plundering. They claim it’s in a different location than any previous claimant.

Historically, the ship also carries an important legacy.

“The heat of the blast came very hot upon us, and several splinters of plank and timber came on board us afire,” English Commodore Charles Wager, who led the the four-ship squadron that fought the Spanish treasure ship, wrote. “I believe the ship’s side blew out, for she caused a sea that came in our ports. She immediately sank with all her riches,” Wager said.

During the battle, the powder magazines of San José detonated, destroying the ship with most of her crew and the gold, silver, emeralds and jewellery collected in the South American colonies to finance the Spanish king’s war effort. Other individuals claim to have found the wreck in other places, but its exact whereabouts remained a mystery.

Wind power was Spain’s top source of electricity in 2013 – CO2 emissions go down by 23%

It may be one heck of a coincidence, or it could be the fact that renewable energy causes a major drop in emissions – choose your pick. Remarkable new figures from Spain’s grid operator have revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s energy sector have fallen by approximately 23.1% last year, as wind and hidroelectric energy generation soared.

Red Eléctrica de España (REE) released a report regarding last year’s power system in the country, and showed that for “the first time ever, [wind power] contributed most to the annual electricity demand coverage”. According to their figures, wind amounted for 21.1% of the total energy usage, while the close runner-up was nuclear, with 21%.

Aerial view of a wind farm in Spain. Many wind farms in Spain are built in mountain areas.

If we put figures on that, we find that wind farms have generated 53,926 gigawatt hours of electricity, up 12% from 2012, and hydroelectric generated 32,205GWh. That means that nuclear, water and wind together generated somewhere at around 55%, leaving fossil fuels compensate most of what is left. As comparison, in the US (and many other countries for that matter), fossil fuels amount for about 80% of total energy.

With some exceptions, there has been little opposition to the installation of inland wind parks.

“Throughout 2013, the all-time highs of wind power production were exceeded,” the report stated. “On 6 February, wind power recorded a new maximum of instantaneous power with 17,056MW at 3:49 pm (2.5 per cent up on the previous record registered in April 2012), and that same day the all-time maximum for hourly energy was also exceeded reaching 16,918MWh. Similarly, in January, February, March and November wind power generation was the technology that made the largest contribution towards the total energy production of the system.”

In contrast, both traditional fossil fuel plants and nuclear energy are dropping significantly. This drop, combined with the emergence of renewable energy, led to a massive drop in the country’s CO2 emissions.

“The increased weight of renewable energy in the generation mix structure of 2013 compared to the previous year has reduced CO2 emissions of the electricity sector on the Spanish peninsula to 61.4 million tonnes, 23.1% lower than in 2012,” the report stated.

This news comes just after Portugal announced that they generated 70 percent of their energy from renewables.

You can read the entire report here.

Giant panda in tree

The oldest giant panda relative found in Spain

Paleontologists have come across the oldest fossils identified as a relative of the giant panda in Spain, dated from 12 million years ago. A highly peculiar find since this unique animals is native to central-western and south western China.

Giant panda in tree

Holla, humans!

The giant panda belongs to the order Carnivora, which is rather ironic since its highly specialized diet consists of 99% bamboo. As a result of farming, deforestation and other development, the panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. Estimates have only 1,590 individuals living in the wild.

Juan Abella, at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Spain, and colleagues came across fossils from two specimens identified as a new species called Kretzoiarctos beatrix. One set consists of two teeth and the other a broken mandible and incomplete upper carnassial (large tooth), both however show the characteristics that allow modern pandas bear to successfully live on tough, fibrous plants like bamboo.

Previously the earliest panda relative was found in China and was considerably younger, dated as being 7 to 8 million years. These findings, however, aren’t enough to say that the giant panda developed in Spain and then migrated in China, like some might be quick to shout “missing link”. Some 12 million years ago, the climate in the region was a lot more humid and warm than it is today, meaning there were plenty of fruits and plants that enabled the ancient panda to incorporate more plants in its diet. Scientists aren’t too sure whether bamboo was present at the time, but other similar  fibrous plants associated with humid climate might have acted as a replacement.

“That fossil record is very fragmentary and so it is difficult to state 100% sure that one fossil species was the direct ancestor of an extant one,” Abella said.

Indeed, little is known about these ancient giant panda ancestors and it’s surprising enough the scientists were able to derive so much information from so little samples. Hopefully, more specimens might be uncovered, which might shed light on how they might look like or how big they were. A genetic sequence would definitely be interesting as well.

“The discovery is very important to understand the origin of the lineage that leads to the giant panda millions of years after,” Abella said. “It may also help scientists to understand the adaptations in both the skull and jaw, that helps, this unique bear, to be able to feed on hard bamboo stems.”

The fossils were described in the journal PLOS ONE.

Carnivorous humpback dinosaur surprises paleontologists

About 125 million years ago, these hunchback dinosaurs roamed today’s central Spain, measuring approximately 6 meters and feasting off of smaller animals of all sorts. However, what’s really surprising about the dinosaurs is its “hump”, a body structure never before seen in dinosaurs. A recently exposed skeletal structure revealed some unique features that has researchers raising their shoulders. The most obvious ones are of course the last two vertebrae in front of the pelvis, in the hip area that have spines that project on its back to form the hump structure.

“Wow,” Jack L. Conrad, a vertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said of the Spanish discovery. “Overall it’s such a bizarre animal.”

Paleontoloigsts can only emit guesses about it’s purpose and functions so far.

“Probably the most plausible role for this structure is that of a deposit of fat, as occurs in some modern mammal such as in the zebu,” said Francisco Ortega of the Universidad Nacional de Educacíon a Distancia, in Madrid.

Still, this theory is not quite satisfying, because unlike mammals, the dinosaur hump has an internal bony structure.

“A structure as striking as that presented by Concavenator could play a role also in communication between individuals of the same species,” Ortega told LiveScience.

He also suggests the hump might have an ornamental design, its sole purpose being to attract mates. Another interesting thing was the little scars on the forearm, that may indicate the presence of wing feathers.

“The scars on the bone look, from what I can tell, exactly like the scars left on an arm bone of a chicken or some other modern bird, and in general those are for large wing feathers,” Conrad said during a telephone interview.

If they are indeed feathers, which has not been proven yet but seems quite possible, it could be extremely interesting for the whole paleontology field, forcing scientists to rethink some of the older theories.

“If this animal had wings, that would really push back the origin of wings, and it would basically really lock in that wings didn’t appear for flight first; more likely they appeared for display,” Conrad said.

Picture