108 New Form Of Water Discovered, Iterative Evolution, and Sea Otters

“How can anybody in his right mind be against science?”

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

On This Week’s Show

  • Ice-nine?
  • A case of iterative evolution
  • Sea otters are bouncing back

Science News with Amrita Sule, and JD Goodwin

A Bizarre New Form Of Water Is Discovered

It’s been long known that ice exists in two solid forms – an amorphous one and a more ordered crystalline one. Now scientists have created a new form of water called the supersonic water/ice, which exists in a solid and liquid state.

  • Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms attached to oxygen, which forms V shape. All these Vs can connect to form an airy structure. When squeezed the oxygen and hydrogens shuffle around to form other crystal structures.
  • In order to make supersonic ice, scientists compressed water between two diamonds by subjecting it to very very high pressure. This squeezes the water into a type of ice known as ICE VII (60% denser than normal water).
  • This compressed water was then zapped with a pulse of laser – heating it to thousands of degrees.
  • Unlike the familiar ice found in your freezer or at the North Pole, supersonic ice is black and hot. A cube of it would weigh four times as much as a normal one.
  • This kind of of water may not exist on earth, however might be present in the mantles of the ice giants of our solar system Neptune and Uranus.  


  • Lars G.M. Pettersson, a theoretical chemical physicist at Stockholm University, said in the statement. “In a nutshell: Water is not a complicated liquid, but two simple liquids with a complicated relationship.”

Wired, Live Science, New York Times

Living Example of Iterative Evolution

  • Sediments from the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean show that in the past it had been completely submerged by the ocean on multiple occasions.
  • It happened again ~136,000 years ago the Aldabra atoll was reclaimed by the ocean, and that it virtually extirpated all the terrestrial animals that lived there
    • Including the Aldabra rail
  • This research is from the University of Portsmouth and Natural History Museum and published last week in the most recent edition of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
  • Tens of thousands of years later the Aldabra rail is back!
    • Or is it?
  • What’s happening is an example of “iterative evolution:
    • a rare process that involves the evolution of “similar or parallel structures” from the same ancestral lineage, but at different times.
  • Hundreds of thousands of years ago white-throated rails flew from their native home in Madagascar to the Aldabra atoll, part of the Seychelle Islands.
    • This atoll lacked predators, as is often the case in remote oceanic islands.
    • With no predators around they became flightless, and evolved into a new subspecies, the Aldabra rail.
  • The founding population still remained on Madagascar, these white-throated rails
    • Madagascar, having predators, required that these birds have wings
  • About 36,000 years after the Aldabra rails were wiped out by the ocean an ice was happening
    • Sea levels dropped and the atoll reappeared above the surface of the waves
  • Of course, the flightless Aldabra rails had been wiped out
  • But then some more white-throated rails arrived from Madagascar it seems, and that founding event occurred once again.
  • Because the conditions on the atoll and selective pressures were nearly the same, and the founding species was the same the white-throated rails once again lost their ability to fly.
    • Again, no predators
  • This means that white-throated rails had colonizing populations that evolved flightlessness twice! Iterative evolution.
  • How do they know this?
    • by comparing the bones of the ancient flightless Aldabra rails — both those that existed before and after the flood — to more recent birds. That includes the more modern bones of flying rails and the flightless Aldabra rails (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus) that still live on the atoll today.


  • Leader of the research Julian Hume said in a statement: “These unique fossils provide irrefutable evidence that a member of the rail family colonized the atoll, most likely from Madagascar, and became flightless independently on each occasion.”

Live Science, IFLScience, Natural History Museum, Smithsonian.com

Sea Otters Are Bouncing Back – And Into The Jaws Of Great White Sharks

Conservation efforts to increase sea otter populations in parts of the North Pacific have been successful. However, now it seems they are becoming targets of great white sharks.

  • Do Sharks like to savor otters??
    • Not really! Sharks usually prefer more meaty sea lions or seals. And these bites on otters appear to be more investigative where they wind up with just fur in their mouths.
  • These shark bites, even if the shark is just investigating, often result in injuries fatal to the sea otters.
  • Jerry Moxely and colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium started their investigation when growing numbers of dead bitten otters were washed ashore.
  • On compiling the data on seasonal movements of sharks they found that sea otters were bitten more frequently in summer.
  • It is around summer that the sharks venture close to the shore and being low on fat reserves after their migration mistakenly target otters and even humans.
  • Moxely and colleagues observed that it was mostly the young male otters that fell victim as they are more pioneering and tend to venture in new territories.
  • This could affect re-establishment of otters in such areas and the otters may start seeking refuge from sharks in more protected estuaries.
  • A similar phenomenon was seen in Aleutian island in Alaska where sea otters hid in shallow bays from orcas.


  • Moxley says “By documenting when and where otters are most at risk of shark bites,” says Moxley, “we can adjust rehabilitation and release practices to support survival post-release.”

New Scientist

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Amrita Sule, and me, JD Goodwin.

Thank you for joining us.

And remember…follow the science!

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