The dinosaurs of the Cretaceous may have faced an unexpected hazard: fire! In a paper published online today, researchers from Royal Holloway University of London and The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago have shown that during the Cretaceous (145-65 million years ago) fire was much more widespread than previously thought.
The researchers traced fire activity in the fossil record through the occurrence of charcoal deposits, compiling a global database for this time interval. "Charcoal is the remnant of the plants that were burnt and is easily preserved in the fossil record," explained Professor Andrew C. Scott, the project leader from Royal Holloway.
This period was a greenhouse world where global temperatures were higher than those of today. Lightning strikes would have been the main trigger for these wildfires, but this period was also one when atmospheric oxygen levels were high.
Ian Glasspool from The Field Museum and one of the report authors, points out that this "was why fires were so widespread. As at such periods – unlike today – plants with higher moisture contents could burn."
The prevalence of fires throughout the Cretaceous would have created a more disturbed environment. Professor Scott highlighted that, "Until now, few have taken into account the impact that fires would have had on the environment, not only destroying the vegetation but also exacerbating run-off and erosion and promoting subsequent flooding following storms." These past events may give some insights into how increased fire activity today may impact the world we live in.
The research also shows that charcoal may often be associated with dinosaur deposits. Sarah Brown, a PhD student on the project and lead author, commented, "When I first started my research in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada nobody had seen any charcoal but quickly I was able to see it everywhere, including associated with dinosaur bone beds, it was incredible".
The researchers are now assessing the impact that these fires would have had upon dinosaur communities. The research is published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
The paper, entitled "Cretaceous wildfires and their impact on the Earth system" is published in Cretaceous Research doi:10.1016/j.cretres.2012.02.008
Field Museum: http://www.fieldmuseum.org
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
The largest specimen among Earth's first flying vertebrates boasted a 10-metre wingspan, dwarfing modern-day giants Continue reading...
How can creatures as different in body and mind as present-day humans and their extinct Neanderthal cousins be 99.84 percent identical genetically?
A mile deep expedition using robots has discovered three ships that sank off the coast of Galveston centuries ago. Archeologists are still unsure of why the vessels sunk.
Scientists based their technique on the one used to create the sheep Dolly years ago. These cells might one day be useful in treating all sorts of diseases.
It turns out the first chili peppers were grown by humans in eastern Mexico. And it's not the same region where beans and corn were first grown, according to new ways of evaluating evidence.
A team of international scientists have found four species of insects with reversed sex organs. The females' anatomy may have to do with their need for nutrients that only males produce.
For all but the shyest of wallflowers, moving to music is a natural human response. But what is it about a catchy tune that makes us groove? Scientists think they've figured out at least part of the recipe: just the right mix of regular rhythms and unexpected beats.
Artists' brains are structurally different to non-artists in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery, a study finds.
Information about who suspects call and when is helping police work out who is linked to which crimes and even their place in the criminal hierarchy
The lead scientist behind a revolutionary method to turn adult cells into stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct, but insists the mistakes were unintentional