Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Email Reticence Costs Me A Spot on BBC

Should I now start obsessing over my email? I check mail once or twice a day. I don't have email alerts set up on my computer and I generally have an attitude that just because you can send me a message almost instantaneously don't expect me to reply in an instant. But all this has cost me a spot on the BBC world service twice! They run a show entitled World Have Your Say where listeners and invitees can discuss the topic on hand. I am on their list as a science and technology blogger and have received invitations to join the show, except that both times I didn't check my mail in time. It happened a few months ago when they ran a show on climate change and then again yesterday when the topic was Do You Want More Space meaning "Is space exploration a good investment". I am visiting my sister in Washington D.C. and I blissfully spent Memorial day in the great outdoors munching on burgers and spicy Thai chicken. World Have Your Say somehow muddled along without my inputs.

Having covered my ass with this explanation, now the confession. I am somewhat relieved I didn't make it to the show. See, I am not a few minutes sound byte kind of guy. I don't do too well when people ask me a question followed by a "Your time starts now!" So, I am not sure how well I would have presented my views on that show. Should we invest in space exploration? I don't see how this question is really different from the more general question on whether we should invest in science that may not give us an immediate payoff. Should all funding be only for applied sciences where future industrial, medical and other benefits are clearly definable? Should pure sciences, or projects where the benefits are difficult to quantify be continued to be funded? My answer has been and always will be an unambiguous YES. There is a more philosophical argument that humans are the most curious of all primates, always wanting to see over the real and metaphorical horizon. Exploration of all kinds just for the sake of knowledge is an important part of being human, and this drive to know more simply cannot be shut down based on purely economic arguments. But there are good practical arguments too for continuing to fund science without immediate payoffs. Unanticipated spin offs is a general way for justifying this expense. Space exploration in fact offers a great example of this. It epitomizes the philosophical argument of funding science for the sake of "the need to know what is beyond" and bolsters the practical argument since the benefits of myriad theoretical, technological and engineering breakthroughs achieved in the long R and D space programs of various countries have eventually made their way into society as applications of various kinds. Check out this NASA spin off website which details the range of industry areas that have commercialized NASA technology intially developed for the purpose of space exploration. Within the broad area of funding space exploration one can always argue for funding one specific project over another based on merit but to ask a question whether space exploration itself should be funded is to put limits on our imagination and constraints on future benefits. India's space program so far has been of the applied kind, more geared towards earth applications than space exploration. It too has led to societal benefits most notably in meteorology and natural resource applications and transfer of technology. A recent post claims around 268 technology transfers to Indian industry from India's space program. I found some informative articles related to the economic benefits of the program here and here.

The question "Is Space Exploration a Good Investment" is of relevance now to India as it prepares to launch the unmanned Moon mission, its first real space exploration project. Will there be benefits from this or should we use that money for other "more practical purposes". To me the benefits are already accruing even before the launch. NASA is collaborating in this project by contributing three sensors and no doubt some knowledge transfer as well. Several other European countries are contributing other types of sensors. Indian space scientists have long been an isolated bunch and such collaborative ventures can only benefit us in terms of expanded perspectives, knowledge and technology transfers. Contrary to perception that the project is exorbitantly expensive it takes up a fraction of the total ISRO budget, about 2% of the total outlay in the 10th five year plan.

Could I have said all this on my two minutes to fame spot on the BBC. I doubt it. It took me 30 minutes with a tea break to dish this out :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Crustal Flow, Eastern Sichuan Earthquake China

Its been 10 days or so since the big earthquake in the eastern part of Sichuan province China and I haven't come across anything like a good geological explanation in the Indian media. So here is a quick summary. The earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale occurred at a depth of about 19 km most likely along the NE trending Longmenshan fault which is a long thrust fault marking the boundary between the eastern Tibetan plateau with the Sichuan basin. Seismological analysis indicated that the fault shearing occured in two stages. First, a 100 km long section sheared upto 7 metres and then to the northeast of this another 150 km section sheared about 4 metres. The map below show seismicity since 1990. You can see a concentration of brown dots marking earthquakes arranged in a linear fashion trending NE just at the boundary between the pale yellow region which is the Sichuan basin and the light brown region which is the Tibetan plateau. This marks approximately the zones of disturbance along the Longmenshan fault. The unusually large brown dot is the location of the big earthquake.

In geology 101 we learn that most earthquakes take place at plate boundaries where the crust is being stressed and actively deformed. Earthquakes away from plate boundaries are not uncommon though. In India in recent memory the two big earthquakes around Bhuj Gujarat and Killari Maharastra are example of earthquakes which took place a long distance away from plate boundaries. The reasons for these intra-plate earthquakes can be usually traced to stress transmitted across plates from zones of plate boundary interaction. The Indian crust in under a compressional stress regime resulting from the collision of India with Eurasia. These compressional stresses can reactive ancient zones of weakness within the Indian plate causing slippage along old faults resulting in earthquakes. The Bhuj earthquake is thought to have occurred along zones of crustal weakness which originated during Mesozoic rifting and basin formation in the Gujarat region of India. Geologic studies show compressional ridges following the same trend as ancient graben structures suggesting that pre-existing zones of weaknesses are now being reactivated like old injuries flaming up during periods of stress. The reason for the Killari earthquake is less clear but a fair guess is that the Deccan Traps at that location sits on very ancient zones of weakness in the Indian crust which originated during the formation of Proterozoic mobile belts of south India. Just like the Indian plate, the Tibetan plateau which is part of the Asian plate, is also under a compression stress regime imposed by the continent-continent collision of India with Eurasia. Although some distance away from the zone of collision, the earthquake at Sichuan needs to be understood in this larger plate tectonic context.
Imagine a square block of dough say 6 inches thick and a foot across representing the Tibetan plateau. Now if you place one hand against one side of the square and drive your fist slowly into the dough from the other side, the dough will respond by thickening and also flowing in a direction perpendicular to the direction of the force you are putting against the dough. The dough has accommodated the shortening by thickening and flowing laterally. That is more or less what is happening to the Tibetan plateau is response to the NNE -SSW compressional stresses imposed by the plate collision. As India penetrates into Asia, the thick crustal material on the Asian plate is flowing eastwards out of India's path. Dont be misled by the term flow. The crust is not flowing like a liquid. The upper crust does break in a brittle manner and easterly movement (flow) of Tibetan crust occurs along faults in this case strike slip and normal faults . At depth the lower crust deforms as a continuous medium more like the dough model I presented. The rates of flow are a few 10's of mm per year. In a recent study by a group of Chinese and American geologists, a array of Global Positioning System locations measuring crustal velocities all over the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau shows this flow of Tibetan crust with remarkable clarity. See map below. Thin blue arrows denote crustal velocities and direction of flow. Northerly flow dominates in the south central part of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. Further north and east the crust is flowing eastwards towards Sichuan and rotating clockwise and flowing southerwards along the eastern syntaxis of the Himalayas.

I really like this depiction of plate movements. The simple arrows and a land cover map draped over a topographic relief model of the earth helps you vizualize continental scale crustal flow and the resulting deformation of the earth's surface into the many crinkles, wrinkles and elevated areas, something that is not always easy to achieve with geological maps cluttered with necessary but utilitarian symbology. Coming back to the tectonics, this easterly flow of the Tibetan crustal material comes up against stronger crust in the Sichuan basin area. The resistance between the Sichuan basin and the Tibetan plateau results in compressive stresses and thrust faulting along the boundary between the two crustal blocks. The Longmenshan fault is one such thrust fault zone along which the Tibetian plateau is riding over the Sichuan basin. A more conventional map below shows the various tectonic features and fault movements in the Tibetan plateau and along its margins. Blue arrows indicated compression and shortening along the margins of the plateau. Purple arrows indicate shortening in the interior of the plateau. Open black arrows indicate relative motion of crust with respect to stable Eurasia.

So the short answer to why was there an earthquake in eastern Sichuan would be that the earthquake was a result of the building up of stress along the Longmenshan fault in response to the convergence of the Tibetan crust against stronger crust underlying the Sichuan basin. High population density, poor construction and environmental damage in the form of deforestation has led to extraordinary losses in terms of lives and property. It could have been worse. Chengdu, a city of 4 million is just 60 km southeast of the epicentre but may have been spared more extensive damage since it sits of the less disrupted footwall of the longmenshan fault and also because the northeast rupture direction of the fault put most of the rupture energy away from Chengdu. Large areas of China , southeast Asia and India fall under high seismicity risk zones. Often the remote locations and steep terrains especially in the Himalayan and Tibetian regions exacerbate the damage by making rescue efforts difficult . A more rigorous and structured earthquake damage management and mitigation plan needs to be put in place. But I sometimes wonder if scientific risk assessement whether of earthquakes or hurricanes will make any difference to human habitation patterns. By choice people are moving in large numbers to live next to active faults like the San Andreas in California or in the path of hurricanes as in Florida and Louisiana. In the Himalayas and Tibet people have little or no choice on where to live. Regardless of the risks they live where they have always lived on their ancestral lands. I don't see that pattern changing in the near future. NPR has USGS seismologist Walter Mooney giving a good talk on predicting aftershocks or rather how there is no real way to predict them and how stress changes along the Longmenshan fault zone after the big earthquake can trigger later earthquakes.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Groundwater Under The Sahara and Thar Deserts

From NPR Science Friday (I've been getting a lot of material from NPR of late) a discussion of a study that tracked the desertification of the Sahara using palynological evidence from sediments of Lake Yoa. The study suggests that desertification was a gradual process taking thousands of years, apparently contradicting earlier work which relied on evidence from the Mediterranean sea and indicated that desertification was rapid, probably taking place in a few hundred years. What was of interest to me was the talk about massive amounts of groundwater in the Nubian sandstone buried under the Sahara sands. This sedimentary aquifer which is made up of sedimentary sequences ranging in age from lower Paleozoic to the Cretaceous was last recharged in the early Holocene period when the climate in the Sahara region was much wetter. The aquifer contains an estimated 150,000 cubic km of water and currently about 6.5 million cubic metres per day are being extracted over its entire extent covering parts of Sudan, Chad, Libya and Egypt.

I am thinking of the situation under the sands of the Thar desert and see some parallels. I wrote about the recognition of paleochannels associated with the Ghaggar river system in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. These channels contain groundwater which also like the Sahara was last recharged in the early part of the Holocene when this part of Rajasthan was wetter. The ancient river system is thought to have dried out by around 2500 B.C. due to aridification of western Rajasthan. There are grand plans today to exploit these water resources by targeted drilling, i.e identifying ancient river channels and drilling into them. Besides paleochannels it is entirely likely that the bedrock below the Thar sands may also contain aquifers. Recognizing these aquifers is going to be more difficult than paleochannels which show up as distinct linear features in radar images. What is important here is that we realize that just like the Nubian aquifer system this water under the Thar desert, stored either in ancient river channels or bedrock , is currently a non-renewable resource and draw up plans of exploitation with that in mind. As part of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP), the government wants to extend the canals of the Punjab into Rajasthan and use excess water from the Sutlej, Yamuna and the Ghaggar to recharge these potential aquifers. The aquifers will act as giant underground storage tanks, potentially advantageous over new surface water storage areas since no land will be submerged and losses due to evaporation minimized. This is a geo-engineering plan on a massive scale and will likely face a long period of opposition from environmentalists and economists. It might take a couple of decades for the benefits of this project to be realized if geologists and hydrologists ascertain that it makes sense in the first place. Meanwhile it won't take much to start sinking tube wells in the paleochannels and pumping out water from aquifers which have at present no natural recharge potential. Undue haste in exploiting this resource might degrade the system beyond repair. I am not at all certain given the water scarcity in this part of Rajasthan that politicians will show the necessary patience until science determines a sustainable water management plan. Global warming is expected to reduce the supply of water to north Indian rivers from Himalayan glaciers in the future. A planning commission report on water resources which did not take into account the projected shortfall from glacial sources finds

“Currently, total water use (including ground water) is 634 BCM (billion cubic metres), of which 83% is for irrigation. The demand for water is projected to grow to 813 BCM by 2025 and 1447 BCM by 2050, against utilisable quantum of 1123 BCM – 690 BCM from surface water and 433 BCM from ground water. Clearly, the overall demand will outstrip availability in another 35 to 40 years, while ground water in particular will come under even greater pressure in the intervening years.”

Global warming will likely make the situation even worse than the official projections. The non-renewable water resources under the Thar desert will gain even more importance given the expected scarcity of water resources in the Gangetic plains. They will have to be managed carefully.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cutting Down On That Red Meat Mr. Bush?

I am not at all sure that even if our media and politicians had read in its entirety Mr. Bush's statements on increasing prosperity in China and India and its link to growing food prices, the reaction would have been any different. The false outraged, self righteous, preachy tone of the Indian response was childish and annoying. An instinctive America-bashing mentality seems to have taken deep roots in our civic discussions of global problems. In all this furore a much more interesting and informative study of American food habits, diets and its impact on climate change went relatively unnoticed. NPR covered it last week and the talk and the paper is worth following.

The study by Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews of Carnegie Mellon University , Pennsylvania did a life-cycle assessement of greenhouse gases emitted during all stages of growing, processing and transporting food consumed in the U.S. They broke it down according to food types and concluded that consumption of red meat and dairy accounted for about 50% of greenhouse gas emissions by an average U.S household. Their main conclusions:

Source: Food Miles and Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the U.S.

..transportation creates only 11% of the 8.1 metric tons (t) of greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents) that an average U.S. household generates annually as a result of food consumption. The agricultural and industrial practices that go into growing and harvesting food are responsible for most (83%) of its greenhouse gas emissions.

For perspective, food accounts for 13% of every U.S. household's 60 t share of total U.S. emissions; this includes industrial and other emissions outside the home. By comparison, driving a car that gets 25 miles per gallon of gasoline for 12,000 miles per year (the U.S. average) produces about 4.4 t of CO2. Switching to a totally local diet is equivalent to driving about 1000 miles less per year, Weber says.

A relatively small dietary shift can accomplish about the same greenhouse gas reduction as eating locally, Weber adds. Replacing red meat and dairy with chicken, fish, or eggs for one day per week reduces emissions equal to 760 miles per year of driving. And switching to vegetables one day per week cuts the equivalent of driving 1160 miles per year.

What should the Indian response be to these findings? Indian agriculture food production chains are no doubt less energy intensive than the U.S. but industrial scale poultry and dairy production in India may be reaching comparable levels. The avoidance of beef by a majority of Indian seems to be helping in keeping industrial scale red meat production in check although we have lots and lots of cows that produce lots of milk and also plenty of methane. If you look at the breakdown of emissions during the dairy life -cycle production of gases in the above figure CO2, CH4 and N2O make up the dominant portion. Those ruminant stomachs are a real headache whether in U.S or in India! Our cattle are producing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases whether they are involved in industrial food processing cycles or not. The current debate on national responsibility for emissions have mostly involved people shouting at or worse past each other. I do feel that our response to statement's like the ones Mr. Bush made should involve more substance and less gas.

Selfish Genes and Altruism

Sometimes I just like to nitpick. David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times exploring the ways science keeps explaining the way our brain works and the resulting conflict between those who are confident that all our experiences have a material basis and those who keep faith in the "something else", a soul, a ghost in the machine, a larger invisible unmeasurable presence that transcends material explanations.

Brooks writes:

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Brooks seems to imply that despite genes being selfish, people have altruistic tendencies. This is pet peeve of mine. The persistent misunderstanding that selfish genes lead to selfish behavior. I responded in a previous post about an article Nicolas Wade wrote about altruism and see no reason to change much:

The term “selfishness” in his article really reflects the metaphorical motives of genes and not the real motives of individuals. These are not necessarily the same motives. Both selfish and co-operative behaviors are contingent strategies which have evolved in certain circumstances such as living in highly social groups. Which one is employed depends upon an unconscious cost-benefit analysis of the greatest chance of reproductive success. The ultimate causation of both these behaviors is the gene's metaphorical selfish motive in getting the most copies of itself into the next generation. Thus ‘selfish genes’ (ultimate level) don't automatically produce selfish behavior (proximate level).

This clarification of the meaning of “Selfishness” is crucial since one of the biggest misapprehensions about evolution is that if genes have selfish motives then individuals will always behave selfishly with the obvious distasteful implications for human behavior. This need not be so since "selfishness" is the genes metaphorical motive which can lead to a wide range of behaviors ranging from selfishness to altruism in individuals.

More than 30 years since the publication of Richard Dawkins classic book The Selfish Gene, such misconceptions remain. If you were to glance through that book, you will find large sections devoted to explaining the evolution of altruism!

Friday, May 9, 2008

That's Dr. Brian May To You!!

One of my favorite rockers Brian May of Queen (love his little guitar riffs!!)

is now Astrophysicist Dr. Brian May, Ph.D in interplanetary dust from Imperial College, London

Listen to Dr. May belt it out on NPR's Day to Day. He's also co-authored a new book titled Bang: A Complete History of the Universe. Might not sell as much as A Brief History of Time but it's a fair bet that many unread copies will sit atop bookshelves. I got all nostalgic and listened to A Night At The Opera. Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon, Death On Two Legs, I'm In Love With My Car...

Dr. May is now chancellor of John Moores University in Liverpool. What is it with Liverpool and great rockers?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Strange Climate Debate in Times

Last week came the news that scientists are predicting a decadal-scale plateau in temperatures or even a slight cooling of Europe and N. America probably related to shifting currents in the oceans. The long term forecast that mean global temperature will increase over the next century remains, but the research reminded us that global warming does not mean that temperatures on every square inch of the earth will increase in step, monotonously and uniformly. Dot Earth has a thoughtful post on whether we can use evidence of long-term risk of temperature increase and put in motion meaningful practical policy to reduce emissions of CO2 or will predictions about the short term variability of climate systems such as the coming cooling of Europe and N. America put the brakes on efforts to limit emissions. All current projections about India point to continued warming in the Indian subcontinent without any decadal-scale breathers.

Given this background the Times of India had a debate on climate change in its view and counter view format. The Times view was the consensus view that argued for continued action no matter how climate systems behave in the short term. I agree with this but was surprised to read the counter view. This was no subtle nuanced argument about complexities of climate systems and the economics of different policy options of combating global warming, but a full sucker punch in the face against the very notion of human-induced global warming. On second thoughts that such a polarized view was tabled should not have surprised me since the very format of the debate forces the counter viewer to take a completely opposite position no matter how ludicrous it might be. And ludicrous it was.

The argument was made not by a climate scientist- when will our media ever learn to engage experts- but by columnist Jug Suraiya! Now Mr. Suraiya is a well respected columnist but he is not a climate scientist and his lack of science training shows. He opens his argument not by referring to real science contradicting warming but by pointing out that the writer Michael Crichton has written a science fiction book that questions the human influence on global warming. I kid you not! Mr. Suraiya raises the bogey of a vast conspiracy involving tens of thousands of scientists, media, lawyers and NGO's all bent on getting their piece of the global warming funding pie. He then goes on to make some very strange remarks about the composition of the atmosphere essentially saying that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere compared with other gases is minuscule and that adding a little more presumable won't make a difference. He ignores the fact that while the relative proportion of CO2 compared with other gases is minuscule, CO2 along with water vapor are the major greenhouse gases and that calculations indicate that adding that "little more" CO2 is precisely what will overload the natural CO2 mass balance of the earth and cause warming. He then proceeds to dismiss the rise in surface temperatures of the earth as a sign of urban heat island effect. I frankly felt very irritated with the man. Does he really think that climate scientists are stupid and have not understood the heat island effect and not corrected for it and validated that correction? The terrestrial temperature measurements are also complimented by measurements of ocean temperatures which also have increased and those of the troposphere which satellite measurements show to have steadily increased too. Read too much Michael Crichton and you tend to forget the real data.

Mr. Suraiya finally regards the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps as natural inter-glacial phenomenon but then points out that the Greenland ice sheet has been growing for the last 6 thousand years. We are in an inter-glacial period and most of the glacial melting related to it took place in the first few thousand years of warming at the beginning of the Holocene period starting about 12 thousand years ago. Greenland ice sheet volume would have fluctuated as a response to the natural climate variability over the past few millennium and may even have grown a little over the last 6 thousand years, but what is important is the increased rates of glacial melting, both alpine glaciers and those in the Arctic and Antarctica that we observe today. For example current studies of the Greenland ice sheet indicate that net loss in ice volume of several glaciers has accelerated in the last few years. Climate scientists are afraid that there is a danger of continued decay of the Greenland ice sheet with attendant sea-level rise over the coming decades as Greenland and the Arctic ocean warms up. This is the point I think a lot of climate skeptics miss out on. It doesn't matter what natural trend existed over the last few thousand years, it is changes over the last 50 years and the next 100 years or so that are of importance and these changes in global temperatures and consequently sea-levels, the overwhelming evidence tells us are being caused by human activity.

I am all for debate on complex topics like climate change, global warming and societal response to it. But the debate should now move away from whether there is going to warming over the next century to how best to minimize it and adapt to it. And it's time that our media brings in climate and policy experts to talk about it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dino News: T. Rex ,Predictions, Media Muck Ups

Dinosaurs are undoubtedly the stars of palaeontology research if you go by media coverage of the field. Paleontologists who study foraminifers or graptolites may disagree but for the media Dino's are always newsworthy. No news about these creatures is small enough to cover. Dino's seem to occupy an iconic status among creatures long gone extinct. They do fascinate, more than any other beasts they bring visions of a primordial world that once was. Stephen Jay Gould wrote on many occasions how the Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit at New York Museum of Natural History inspired him to become a paleontologist. His excellent collection of essays Bully for Brontosaurus has an affectionate tribute to Dino-mania. Two news reports on Dinosaurs in the last couple of weeks caught my eye.

Creationists often carp that evolutionary theory lacks predictive power. Ask a biologist they say how human evolution will proceed over the next 5 million years and there will be a shake of the head and a can't say for sure for an answer. If you cannot predict the future evolution of a species then evolutionary theory is not a true science. This line of argument is often persuasively sold by creationists to the layperson not familiar with the scientific method. It is true that it is not possible to forecast what specific evolutionary trajectory a particular lineage will take since there is contingency built into evolution. The process is very sensitive to starting conditions. Small initial variations between sister species may lead to large differences over time but on the other hand they may not. Unlike physical laws, biological "laws" are not universal in time and space. There are exceptions to just about every biological patterns and processes and this makes predicting long term evolutionary trends difficult. Moreover external events such as climatic shifts may push evolution this way or the other, disasters such as meteorite impacts may obliterate well adapted species and reorganize ecosystems. But in science prediction does not always mean foretelling future events. Especially in evolutionary theory a large part of prediction making deals with reconstructing events of the past, retro-dictions if you like. Which means predicting that certain biological patterns and properties will exist in nature given expectation of theory and complimentary data from another area of research. Based on anatomical comparisons between Dinosaurs and other vertebrates it is the consensus view today that birds are the closest living relatives of Dinosaurs. If gross morphology informs us such then so should individual molecules. A reasonable prediction would be that there would be greater DNA or protein sequence similarity between Dinosaurs and birds than between Dinosaurs and any other living vertebrate. And that is exactly the pattern that has been found in ancient proteins recovered from a 68 million year old T. rex bone. The analysis grouped T. rex closer to chickens and ostriches than to lizards and crocodiles. You can listen to the details in this NPR piece. This is how evolutionary theory gets strengthened. Predictions such as these are made every day in labs and tested. Lines of evidence from different fields converging on the same conclusion. Nothing earth shaking, no paradigm shifts or revolutions, just day to day science at work although in this case retrieving protein from a 68 million year old fossil was something special. But nearly 150 years of testing and validating predictions such as these is why evolution is such a strong theory.

Given the frequent coverage by media on dinosaurs and their relationship to birds I don't at all understand how Science Daily could have got it so wrong in another piece on dinosaurs. This one dealt with the absence of heat generating brown fat in lizards and birds. This is tissue that generates heat in mammals and a comparative molecular analysis suggests that the gene UCP1 responsible of this function arose in the common ancestor of mammals and birds. This is what the report said:

The ability to produce brown fat evolved in a common ancestor of birds and mammals, but the ability to generate heat was lost in the group that gave rise to birds and lizards after it separated from the mammalian lineage (the researchers found the lizard genome similarly lacks a UCP1 gene). This strongly implies that dinosaurs, which diverged from birds even later than lizards, also lacked brown fat.

Science Daily has got the evolution part all mixed up. The common ancestor of birds and mammals is the common ancestor of dinosaurs, lizards and mammals. See figure of vertebrate phylogeny below. Red indicates presence of UCP1 and black indicates its absence. Question mark indicate uncertainty on when exactly UCP1 was lost.

Source: BioMed Central

Birds are not ancestral to dinosaurs as the report implies but birds are highly derived dinosaurs. The best evidence suggests that they evolved from within the maniraptors, a group of small carnivorous dinosaurs. Birds lack UCP1 because dinosaurs lacked it and they (birds) inherited that condition and not the other way round.

Update: Just saw this in DNA. The Indian media is never far behind in copying the mistakes of others. DNA (April 28 08) pasting the same report came up with its own headline: Dinosaurs died as they failed to generate heat. The print edition went further and announced a new theory: New Theory on Dino's Extinction. The original research article did not approach the topic of extinction with a single condition answer and for good reason. End Cretaceous environmental changes must have affected organisms in various ways. Dinosaurs were varied in their size , shapes, diet and thermo regulation. It's unlikely the entire group would be affected in the same way by ecological changes. Absence of UCP1 and a lack of heat generating brown fat was a shared condition in lizards, non-avian dinosaurs and avian dinosaurs (birds). Only the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct. Any theory of dinosaur extinction has to explain this specificity since despite lacking UCP1 many ancient lizard and avian dinosaur (bird) species survived and proliferated. Many non-avian dinosaurs are thought to have had higher rates of metabolism than lizards and other reptiles so the answer to why dinosaurs went extinct has to account for that too.