How will global warming affect life on Earth? Uncertainties about future climate change and the impact of human activity make it difficult to predict exactly what lies ahead. But the past offers clues, say scientists who are studying a period of warming that occurred about 55 million years ago.
In a joint project of the University of Michigan, the University of New Hampshire and the Smithsonian Institution, researchers have been analyzing fossils from the badlands of Wyoming found in a distinctive layer of bright red sedimentary rock that was deposited at the boundary between the Paleocene and Eocene epochs---a time of apparent sudden climate change. The researchers described their findings in a paper presented Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"The interval of Earth history that were studying is marked by a short-term global warming event thought to have occurred when something triggered the release of methane from methane clathrate---a kind of methane ice found in ocean sediments," said Philip D. Gingerich, professor of geological sciences at the University of Michigan. Within about 10,000 years of peak warming, mammals such as primates and the groups that include horses and deer appeared together for the first time in North America, apparently having crossed land bridges from other continents.
"Flight recorder" of rocks within the Earth’s crust
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