You might have missed: Jormungandr, marine debris off the coast of India, gas giants, and teenage mental health

New species of mosasaur named Jormungandr

Scientists have discovered a new species of mosasaur – a large, carnivorous aquatic lizard that lived during the Cretaceous period that spanned from 145 million to 66 million years ago.

The new species, Jǫrmungandr walhallaensis, is named after a sea serpent in Norse mythology, Jormungandr, and the small city Walhalla near to where the fossil was found North Dakota in the US. 

The details have been published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History

A line drawing of the skull of jormungandr walhallaensis. Credit © henry sharpe 850
A line drawing of the skull of Jormungandr walhallaensis. Credit © Henry Sharpe

“If you put flippers on a Komodo dragon and made it really big, that’s basically what it would have looked like,” describes lead author Amelia Zietlow, a PhD student in comparative biology at the American Museum of Natural History.

The fossil on which the study is based was discovered in 2015. The species would have lived about 80 million years ago.

Marine debris increase risk of invasive species

A new study conducted along the Southeast coast of India has brought to light the increasing risk of invasive species colonisation marine debris.

Increasing litter in the ocean has provided an extensive array of surfaces for marine organisms to grow or live on. Its accumulation has become a vector for the transport of fouling organisms, leading to far-reaching ecological and economic consequences.

The research team examined organisms on various types of stranded litter, finding a total of 3,130 specimens or colonies representing 17 species.

A degraded blue inhaler with barnacles growing over it
The accumulation of marine debris occurs especially near highly populated cities or tourist destinations. Credut: Dr Gunasekaran Kannan

“The results highlight the increasing risk of invasive species colonisation on plastics along the southeast coast of India,” says Dr Blanca Figuerola, from the Institute of Marine Sciences, Spain, and the last author of the paper published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“This is particularly worrying at a time when plastics are becoming a more and more common substrate for marine organisms, especially in India, which is one of the top countries contributing most to ocean plastic pollution.

“Our study thus serves as a call to immediate action to address plastic pollution and its related threats in India.” 

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Gas giants can prevent life in other solar systems

Jupiter is by far the largest planet in our solar system and it plays an important protective role for our planet. Its enormous gravitational field deflects comets and asteroids that might otherwise hit Earth.

However, a new paper in The Astronomical Journal details how massive planets in other star systems are likely to toss their Earth-like neighbours out of the “habitable zone” – the range of distances from a star that are warm enough for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface, making life possible.

The paper focuses on four giant planets in the star system HD 141399.

Crowdedsystem 850
Artist’s depiction of an extra-solar system that is crowded with giant planets. Credit: NASA/Dana Berry

“It’s as if they have four Jupiters acting like wrecking balls, throwing everything out of whack,” says Professor Stephen Kane, author of the paper from the University of California – Riverside, US. 

Taking data about the system’s planets into account, Kane ran multiple computer simulations to understand the effect of these four giants. He wanted to see if an Earth could remain in a stable orbit inside the habitable zone there. 

“The answer is yes, but it’s very unlikely. There are only a select few areas where the giants’ gravitational pull would not knock a rocky planet out of its orbit and send it flying right out of the zone,” says Kane.

Seasonal trends in teenage mental health

Teenagers in England are more likely to seek help for depression and anxiety at the start of the school year, according to new research in BMJ Mental Health.

The study looked at anonymised electronic health records from GPs of 5 million people in England between 2006 and 2019, to determine whether there are seasonal patterns in antidepressant prescribing and consultations for mental health issues in adolescents and young adults.

Researchers found that antidepressant prescribing, depression and anxiety incidence rates were higher in autumn months for adolescents (14-18 years), but not for the older groups (19-23 years and 24-28 years).

“Rates started to increase in September and peaked in November. The start of a new school year can be a particularly difficult time and it’s great that people are seeking help,” says Dr Ruth Jack of the University of Nottingham in the UK, who led the research.

“By understanding the changing demand for services at different times of the year, GPs, teachers and others who support teenagers can make sure there are enough resources and help available when it’s most needed.”

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The Ultramarine project – focussing on research and innovation in our marine environments – is supported by Minderoo Foundation.

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