As Earth warmed, ancient rainforests thrived

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On March 8, 2011

While environmental theorists speculate that rain forests could be destroyed by rapid global warming, two scientists with ties to Missouri S&T believe otherwise. In the November issue of the journal Science, the researchers report that tropical rain forests thrived during a period of global warming almost 60 million years ago.

Carlos Jaramillo, MS GGph’95, the study’s lead author, is a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. In 2009, in the journal Nature, Jaramillo and colleagues reported the discovery of bones from what is believed to be the largest snake to slither the earth. The constrictor, which they named Titanoboa, was about 50 feet long. (Jaramillo and his discovery were featured in the Summer 2010 issue of Missouri S&T Magazine.)

When Titanoboa was living, the world was going through a quick period of warming. Temperatures went up 3 to 5 degrees Celsius in about 10,000 years. Carbon levels doubled. The warm conditions lasted about 200,000 years.

Contrary to speculation that tropical forests could be devastated by rapid global warming, the researchers found that forest diversity also increased rapidly during this past warming event. New plant species were added to the existing pool of vegetation. The Science researchers examined pollen trapped in rock cores and outcrops — from Colombia and Venezuela — to form their conclusions.

Guillermo Rodriguez, MS GGph’10, one of the co-authors who contributed to the Science study, is a palynologist at the Colombian Petroleum Institute.

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On March 8, 2011. Posted in Research, Spring 2011