Global warming dramatically changed ancient forests
November 14, 2005
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Palmettos in Pennsylvania? Magnolias in Minnesota? The migration of subtropical plants to northern climates may not be too far-fetched if future global warming patterns mirror a monumental shift that took place in the past, new research by an international team of scientists suggests.
The findings, which appear in this week's issue of the journal Science, provide the first evidence that land plants changed drastically during a period of sudden global warming 55 million years ago, said Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist and member of the research team.
"It indicates that should we have a period of rapid global warming on that scale today, we might expect very dramatic changes to the biota of the planet, not just the mammals and other vertebrates, but forests also completely changing," said Bloch, who is a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
Scientists have known there was significant turnover in mammals during this rapid period of global warming called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, in which temperatures rose by perhaps as much as 10 degrees in the relatively short time span of 10,000 years, then lasting for another 80,000 to 100,000 years, Bloch said.
Global warming allowed mammals to emigrate across northern land bridges, marking the first appearance of perissodactlys in the form of the earliest known horse; artiodactyls, a group of even-toed ungulates that includes pigs, camels and hippos; as well as modern primates, he said.
But until now, no clues were available as to what happened to plants during this shift, considered one of the most extreme global warming events during the Cenozoic, the "Age of Mammals," Bloch said. "It was very puzzling because it looked like there was nothing going on with plants, which was rather strange and disconcerting."
Excavations by team leader Scott Wing, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, in the Bighorn Basin of northwestern Wyoming uncovered fossil leaves and pollen alongside fossilized mammals in rocks that were deposited during this turbulent geologic interval.
"Up until this point we have not had a place in which we have mammal and plant remains preserved in the same rocks spanning what we call the Paleocene-Eocene boundary," Bloch said. "Amazingly, these plants came from what would have been more tropical environments."
Some of the plant remains resembled those found in rock deposits of similar age unearthed in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, including relatives of poinsettia and sumac, Bloch said.
However, plant fossils found in the same area dating immediately before and after this period of rising temperatures reflected typical mid-latitude forests of the time and included relatives of dawn redwood, alder, sycamore and walnut, Bloch said. As temperatures cooled, floral newcomers appeared from Europe, including species of linden and wing nut. These plants probably emigrated along the same land bridges that animals traveled, he said.
Because his research specialty is mammals, Bloch said he is particularly interested in understanding how the movement of plants affected the earliest evolution of modern primates, which first appeared throughout the world during this period.
"I would very much like to know what these forests were like when these first modern primates were coming in because it has implications for how these animals lived and behaved right from the beginning," he said.
If the landscape evolved from an initially drier habitat, with patchy open spaces, into a more lush tropical forest with densely packed trees, it might have played a role in the evolution of primates' climbing skills, Bloch said. The ancestors of living primates would have been leaping through the tree canopy, foraging for fruit and insects, he said.
Partly because of the dramatic change in mammals, including the first appearance of modern primates, and also because of the interval's rapid temperature change, there has been a wide range of scientific interest in the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, Bloch said.
The warming was caused by a gigantic release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that was comparable to the atmospheric effects expected from human burning of fossil fuels, he said.
"You can't predict the future, but there has been a time in the past where we had similar type of conditions, and we might look to that experience," Bloch said.
University of Florida
Related Global Warming Current Events and Global Warming News ArticlesIndustrial age helps some coastal regions capture carbon dioxide
Coastal portions of the world's oceans, once believed to be a source of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, are now thought to absorb as much as two-thirds more carbon than they emitted in the preindustrial age, researchers estimate.Geoengineering approaches to reduce climate change unlikely to succeed
Reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the planet's surface by geoengineering may not undo climate change after all. UF researchers' experiment is first to simulate warming of Arctic permafrost
Although vegetation growth in the Arctic is boosted by global warming, it's not enough to offset the carbon released by the thawing of the permafrost beneath the surface, University of Florida researchers have found in the first experiment in the Arctic environment to simulate thawing of permafrost in a warming world.Underestimated future climate change?
New model calculations by ETH researcher Thomas Frölicher show that global warming may continue after a stoppage of CO 2 emissions. We cannot rule out the possibility that climate change is even greater than previously thought, says the scientist.A possible cause of the end-Permian mass extinction: Lemon juice?
Rain as acidic as undiluted lemon juice may have played a part in killing off plants and organisms around the world during the most severe mass extinction in Earth's history.Large study shows pollution impact on coral reefs -- and offers solution
One of the largest and longest experiments ever done to test the impact of nutrient loading on coral reefs today confirmed what scientists have long suspected - that this type of pollution from sewage, agricultural practices or other sources can lead to coral disease and bleaching.Even if emissions stop, carbon dioxide could warm Earth for centuries
Even if carbon dioxide emissions came to a sudden halt, the carbon dioxide already in Earth's atmosphere could continue to warm our planet for hundreds of years, according to Princeton University-led research published in the journal Nature Climate Change.Global warming in the Canadian Arctic
Ph.D. student Karita Negandhi and professor Isabelle Laurion from INRS'Eau Terre Environnement Research Centre, in collaboration with other Canadian, U.S., and French researchers, have been studying methane emissions produced by thawing permafrost in the Canadian Arctic. These emissions are greatly underestimated in current climate models.Island biodiversity in danger of total submersion with climate change
Sea level rise caused by global warming can prove extremely destructive to island habitats, which hold about 20% of the world's biodiversity.'Missing heat' discovery prompts new estimate of global warming
An interdisciplinary team of researchers say they have found 'missing heat' in the climate system, casting doubt on suggestions that global warming has slowed or stopped over the past decade.
More Global Warming Current Events and Global Warming News Articles
The Global Warming Reader: A Century of Writing About Climate Change|
by Bill McKibben (Author)
Our most widely respected environmental writer brings together the essential voices on global warming, from its 19th-century discovery to the present
With the rise of extreme weather events worldwide--witness the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Katrina, and the sustained drought across the American West--global warming has become increasingly difficult to deny.
What is happening to our planet? And what can we do about it? The Global Warming Reader provides more than thirty-five answers to these burning questions, from more than one hundred years of engagement with the topic. Here is Elizabeth Kolbert's groundbreaking essay "The Darkening Sea," Michael Crichton's skeptical view of climate change, George Monbiot's biting indictment of those who are...
by Seymour Simon (Author)
Earth's climate has always varied, but it is now changing more rapidly than at any other time in recent centuries. The climate is very complex, and many factors play important roles in determining how it changes.Why is the climate changing? Could Earth be getting warmer by itself? Are people doing things that make the climate warmer?Award-winning science writer Seymour Simon teams up with the Smithsonian Institution to give you a full-color photographic introduction to the causes and effects of global warming and climate change.
Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast|
by David Archer (Author)
Archer's Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast 2nd Edition, is the first real text to present the science and policy surrounding climate change at the right level. Accompanying videos, simulations and instructional support makes it easier to build a syllabus to improve and create new material on climate change. Archer's polished writing style makes the text entertaining while the improved pedagogy helps better understand key concepts, ideas and terms.This edition has been revised and reformulated with a new chapter template of short chapter introductions, study questions at the end, and critical thinking puzzlers throughout. Also a new asset for the BCS was created that will give ideas for assignments and topics for essays and other projects. Furthermore, a number of interactive...
Global Warming: Alarmists, Skeptics & Deniers; A Geoscientist looks at the Science of Climate Change|
by Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
“The author makes it very clear that a changing climate is not unusual. It is in fact the norm -- although change is often so slow that humans cannot detect it directly. But historical geologists know how to display the evidence to the public. This may be the single most important contribution of this well-written and fact-filled book.”—Dr. S. Fred Singer, Chairman Science & Environmental Policy Project
“Global Warming: Alarmists, Skeptics and Deniers is a refreshing read on a topic of great societal importance; refreshing because, unlike many books published on this subject, the authors of this work evaluate key predictions and controversies of the global warming debate using logic and science. Most readers will appreciate the book’s arrangement. Each chapter...
Fifty Years of Global Warming|
These 65 essays reflect my personal journey to understand the three modern-day horsemen of the apocalypse who stalk mankind: climate change, peak oil, and population growth. What I found was not reassuring. But don’t take my word for any of this. Learn about the issues and make up your own mind.
If you come to the same conclusions I did, then you really need to start thinking about how to prepare your children and grandchildren for a world that will be very different from the one they see around them today … a world as challenging as anything that mankind has ever faced.
Global Warming: The Complete Briefing|
by John Houghton (Author)
John Houghton's market-leading textbook is now in full color and includes the latest IPCC findings, making it the definitive guide to climate change. Written for students across a wide range of disciplines, its simple, logical flow of ideas gives an invaluable grounding in the science and impacts of climate change and highlights the need for action on global warming. Is there evidence for climate changing due to human activities? How do we account for recent extremes of weather and climate? Can global electricity provision and transport ever be carbon free? Written by a leading figure at the forefront of action to confront humanity's most serious environmental problem, this undergraduate textbook comprehensively explores these and other issues, allowing students to think through the...
Global Warming: A complete Guide to Understanding Global Warming, How Global Warming Affects Us, and What You Can Do to Stop It! (Global Warming, Climate Shift, Recycle)|
.Global Warming: A complete Guide to Understanding Global Warming, How Global Warming Affects Us, and What You Can Do to Stop It!
Today only, get this Amazon bestseller for just $2.99. Regularly priced
at $4.99. Read on your PC, Mac, smart phone, tablet or Kindle device.
This book contains proven steps and strategies on how to effectively understand the repercussions of global warming and the methods that can be used to fight it.
Global warming has significantly increased during the past few decades, presenting numerous problems to the Earth and her inhabitants. Stated here is vital information about the alarming growth of global warming, as well as the possible counter-measures that can be done to prevent its escalation.
Here Is A...
Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices|
by National Academies Press
What is climate? Climate is commonly thought of as the expected weather conditions at a given location over time. People know when they go to New York City in winter, they should take a heavy coat. When they visit the Pacific Northwest, they should take an umbrella. Climate can be measured as many geographic scales - for example, cities, countries, or the entire globe - by such statistics as average temperatures, average number of rainy days, and the frequency of droughts. Climate change refers to changes in these statistics over years, decades, or even centuries. Enormous progress has been made in increasing our understanding of climate change and its causes, and a clearer picture of current and future impacts is emerging. Research is also shedding light on actions that might be taken...
Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction|
by Mark Maslin (Author)
Global warming is arguably the most critical and controversial issue facing the world in the twenty-first century, one that will affect every living creature on the planet. It is also an extraordinarily complex problem, which everyone needs to understand as clearly and completely as possible. This Very Short Introduction provides a concise and accessible explanation of the key aspects of global warming. Mark Maslin discusses how and why changes are occurring, sets current warming trends in the context of past climate change, examines the predicted impact of global warming, as well as the political controversies of recent years and the many proposed solutions. Fully updated for 2008, this compelling account offers the best current scientific understanding of global warming, describing...
Age of Global Warming|
by Rupert Darwall (Author)
Rachel Carson's epoch-creating Silent Spring marked the beginnings of the environmental movement in the 1960s, its 'First Wave' peaking at the 1972 Stockholm Conference. The invention of sustainable development by Barbara Ward, along with Rachel Carson the founder of the environmental movement, created an alliance of convenience between First World environmentalism and a Third World set on rapid industrialisation. The First Wave crashed in 1973 with the Yom Kippur War and decade-long energy crisis. Revived by a warming economy of the 1980s, environmentalism found a new, political champion in 1988: Margaret Thatcher. Four years later at the Rio Earth Summit, politics settled the science. One hundred and ninety-two nations agreed that mankind was causing global warming and carbon dioxide...