What a 66-million-year-old forest fire reveals about the last days of the dinosaurs

Jun 05, 2014
A McGill field crew is collecting fossils as part of a field course in Grasslands National. Credit: Hans Larsson/Emily Bamforth

As far back as the time of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago, forests recovered from fires in the same manner they do today, according to a team of researchers from McGill University and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

During an expedition in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, the team discovered the first fossil-record evidence of ecology - the regrowth of plants after a fire - revealing a snapshot of the ecology on earth just before the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The researchers also found evidence that the region's climate was much warmer and wetter than it is today.

"Excavating preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it. From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance", says Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill University.

The researchers' discovery revealed that at the forest fire site, the plants are dominated by flora quite similar to the kind that begin forest recovery after a fire today. Ancient forests recovered much like current ones, with plants like alder, birch, and sassafras present in early stages, and sequoia and ginkgo present in mature forests.

"We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone," says Emily Bamforth, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study's first author. "Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees Celsius warmer than today, with almost six times as much precipitation".

"The abundant plant fossils also allowed us for the first time to estimate climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada, and provides one more clue to reveal what the ecology was like just before they went extinct", says Larsson, who is also an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum.

Forest fires can affect both plant and animal biodiversity. The team's finding of ancient ecological recovery from a forest fire will help broaden scientists' understanding of biodiversity immediately before the of . "We won't be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background". says Larsson.

Explore further: 79 years of monitoring demonstrates dramatic forest change

More information: "Paleoclimate estimates and fire ecology immediately prior to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction in the Frenchman Formation (66 Ma), Saskatchewan, Canada" Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology: Emily L. Bamforth, Christine L. Button, Hans C.E. Larsson, Volume 401, 1 May 2014 www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S0031018214000947

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User comments : 13

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jackjump
1.4 / 5 (11) Jun 05, 2014
Oh my, 10-12 degrees celsius warmer than today. However did they avoid the catastrophic destruction of the planet that is supposed to happen to us if we warm 3-4 degrees celsius? Do the global warmists know the world was jam packed with flora and fauna getting on famously (except for the occasional forest fire) when the world was three or four times warmer than their nightmare, world ending, apocalyptic global warming is predicted to cause? Strangely I don't think it was a secret that it was that warm back then. I wonder how the warmists missed that little fact.
matthiasmmmeier
4.6 / 5 (9) Jun 05, 2014
First of all - it's only Saskatchewan that was 10-12 degrees warmer, not the whole world. But yes, also the world was warmer (though not 10-12 degrees). The problem with anthropogenic global warming is not so much the end-state by itself, but the transition there (in particular: the speed at which this transition unfurls - it took the planet millions of years to transition from that warm, creaceous world to the ice-house climate we live in today, giving ecosystems ample time to adapt. Even the warming at the end of the last ice age was about a hundred times slower than what we see today!). It just happens that the seas were also about 120 m higher at the time - while billions of people live within 120 m of the coast today... Global warming will hit humans (in particular their cities) the hardest. One would therefore think that not messing around with the atmosphere and climate in the first place should be a no-brainer...
rockwolf1000
4.2 / 5 (12) Jun 05, 2014
Oh my, 10-12 degrees celsius warmer than today. However did they avoid the catastrophic destruction of the planet that is supposed to happen to us if we warm 3-4 degrees celsius? I wonder how the warmists missed that little fact.


Oh my. How do you get dressed in the morning with a brain that is malfunctioning the way yours is?

No one is suggesting there will be a catastrophic destruction of the planet besides you dimwitted deniers. Scientists are simply saying the oceans will rise and inundate coastal areas and that ecosystems will be irreparably harmed due to the speed of change.

Our species RELIES on those ecosystems!

I wonder how the deniers missed that HUGE fact.

You are aware there were giant reptiles running, flying and swimming around everywhere then right? The kind that could've eaten people whole. Is that what you desire?

There is no proof that the earth could sustain 7.5 billion people at those temps so what is your point anyway??
rockwolf1000
2.7 / 5 (7) Jun 05, 2014
@jackjump

Do the world a favor Jack, jump off a cliff or something!
antigoracle
1 / 5 (9) Jun 05, 2014
You are aware there were giant reptiles running, flying and swimming around everywhere then right? The kind that could've eaten people whole. Is that what you desire?

Oh nose!!! Da giant weptiles gonna get da wolf. Go easy on the stupid pills wolfie.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2014
You are aware there were giant reptiles running, flying and swimming around everywhere then right? The kind that could've eaten people whole. Is that what you desire?

Oh nose!!! Da giant weptiles gonna get da wolf. Go easy on the stupid pills wolfie.


Ok. I'll save them all for you! As per normal.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2014
Oh wolfie, beyond hope. Too stupid to know good advice.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2014
Oh wolfie, beyond hope. Too stupid to know good advice.


Yes many people have offered you help. But you continue to display your ignorance and stupidity at an alarming rate.

Poor anti-dorkacle the un-seeing. Brain dead and hopeless. Not worth fixing. Poor you!
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2014
@jackjump: "However did they avoid the catastrophic destruction of the planet that is supposed to happen to us if we warm 3-4 degrees celsius?"

Nobody has claimed "catastrophic destruction of the planet", the claim is a catastropical change in climate. Because, you know, it is climate science that says so. That is the temperature range after the ice ages started, so not valid before 6 million years ago.

The last weeks have been filled with papers that has seen the West Antarctic ice go, with no obvious stop. Since we have prolonged the time to the next ice age, we should expect to see 6 m sea rise in a few centuries. Is that catastrophic climate change enough for you?

So, Saskatchewan's temperature, which obviously wasn't the global temperature, 65 million years back when the Earth was those 3-4 degrees globally warmer (no polar ices)? Seems to me that part of Canada was much closer to the equator. [ http://phl.upr.ed...e-set-1a ]

[tbctd]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (5) Jun 06, 2014
[ctd]

And since the plate tectonics also had opened up an ocean strip around the equator, I assume the hot equatorial water could stay with the strip, less forcing of cold water from elsewhere. If so, the equator was then much hotter than today too.

Errata on 1st part: For 6 million, substitute 5, and for centuries substitute millenniums. (Always check sources first.) Still, I wouldn't like to live in NY in a few centuries.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2014
Oh wolfie, you need to change your doctor, because you never really needed those stupid pills.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2014
Oh wolfie, you need to change your doctor, because you never really needed those stupid pills.


Considering every single thought, opinion, statement, conjecture, belief or point of view you've ever had is diametrically opposed to the truth, I'll simply accept that if you "think" I'm stupid the opposite must be true.

Why don't you run upstairs and see if your mommy will give you a hug? Clearly you need one.

Have a nice day dumb ass!
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2014
Oh wolfie, you talk like you were dropped down the stairs by mommy. Well, at least you're special.