Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient Climate Change: When Palm Trees Gave Way To Spruce Trees

Date:
June 25, 2009
Source:
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Summary:
One long-standing climate puzzle relates to the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene. Profound changes were underway. Globally, carbon dioxide levels were falling and the hothouse warmth of the dinosaur age and Eocene Period was waning. In Antarctica, ice sheets had formed and covered much of the southern polar continent. But what exactly was happening on land, in northern latitudes?

New research reveals the demise of an ancient forest. These are dawn redwood stumps on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut.
Credit: Copyright David Greenwood / Used with permission

For climatologists, part of the challenge in predicting the future is figuring out exactly what happened during previous periods of global climate change.

One long-standing climate puzzle relates to a sequence of events 33.5 million years ago in the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene. Profound changes were underway. Globally, carbon dioxide levels were falling and the hothouse warmth of the dinosaur age and Eocene Period was waning. In Antarctica, ice sheets had formed and covered much of the southern polar continent.

But what exactly was happening on land, in northern latitudes? When and how did Northern glaciation begin, and what does this knowledge add to the understanding of the relationship between carbon dioxide levels and today's climate?

An international team that included Dr. David Greenwood, an NSERC-funded researcher at Brandon University, now provides some of the very first detailed answers, and they come from an unusual source.

"Fossils of land plants are excellent indicators of past climates," said Dr. Greenwood. "But the fossil plant localities from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland don't appear to record this major climate change, and pose problems for precisely dating their age, so we needed to look elsewhere."

The "where" was in marine sediments entombed when the North Atlantic Ocean was beginning to open, and lying now at the bottom of today's Norwegian-Greenland Sea. Sediment cores taken from there contained a record of ancient spores and pollen blown from the continent to the west.

"These marine sediment cores give us a very precise chronology of the changes in the dominant land plants," said Dr. Greenwood "and since many of these species have modern relatives, we can assume that the temperatures and environments they lived in were very similar."

To arrive at a holistic picture of the climate of the transition, the researchers merged the plant data with physical information about the state of the atmosphere and ocean taken from chemical and isotopic information in the same sediments, and compared this to computer modelling of climate in the period.

"We can see that summer temperatures on land remained relatively warm throughout the Eocene/Oligocene transition, but that the period was marked by increasing seasonality," said Dr. Greenwood.

"Mean temperatures during the coldest month dropped by five degrees Celsius, to just above freezing," he said.

"This was probably not enough to create much in the way of continental ice on East Greenland," he said, "but it did wipe out palms and other subtropical trees such as swamp cypress. They were replaced by temperate climate trees such as spruces and hemlock."

The researcher said that, nonetheless, the middle period of the transition remained fairly warm. "Hickory and walnut were still present, but these became rare in the final stages," he said.

Although the march to a cooler world was gradual in northern latitudes, it was inevitable according to Dr. Greenwood.

"Changes in the earth's position in its orbit were leading a much greater seasonal range in radiation for polar regions and, overall, heat was becoming more concentrated in the tropics, largely due to a global drop in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere" he said.

The group's detailed record of the Eocene/Oligocene transition will appear in the June 18 issue of Nature.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. James S. Eldrett, David R. Greenwood, Ian C. Harding & Matthew Huber. Increased seasonality through the Eocene to Oligocene transition in northern high latitudes. Nature, 2009; 459 (7249): 969 DOI: 10.1038/nature08069

Cite This Page:

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Ancient Climate Change: When Palm Trees Gave Way To Spruce Trees." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090617131356.htm>.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. (2009, June 25). Ancient Climate Change: When Palm Trees Gave Way To Spruce Trees. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090617131356.htm
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. "Ancient Climate Change: When Palm Trees Gave Way To Spruce Trees." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090617131356.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) At least six Nepalese guides are dead after an avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest along a route used to climb the world's highest peak. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins