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New study shows how giant tortoises, alligators thrived in High Arctic 50 million years ago
Date:8/24/2010

rs like hunting by early Native Americans and the past extent of glaciers probably are playing a role in today's distribution of giant tortoises, she said.

Eberle, who calls the new results "a deep time analogue" for today's rapidly warming Arctic region, said quantitative estimates of early Eocene climate conditions at high latitudes like Ellesmere Island are rare and often contradictory. Previous estimates of the early Eocene mean annual temperatures have ranged from 39 to 68 degrees F (4 to 20 degrees C), a temperature range equivalent to geographic ranges reaching from Canada to Florida.

There is high concern by scientists over a proposal to mine coal on Ellesmere Island at the ancient fossil site by WestStar Resources Inc. headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Eberle said. "Sites like this are unique and extremely valuable resources that are of international importance, and shouldn't be allowed to disappear," she said. "Our concern is that coal mining activities could damage such sites and they will be lost forever."

Today Ellesmere Island is one of the coldest, driest environments on Earth and features tundra, permafrost, ice sheets, sparse vegetation and few mammals. The temperatures range from roughly minus 37 degrees F in winter (minus 38 C) to 48 degrees F (8 degrees C) in summer.

The new study foreshadows the impacts of continuing global warming on Arctic plants and animals, Eberle said. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as those at mid-latitudes as greenhouse gases build up in Earth's atmosphere, due primarily to human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation, according to climate scientists.


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Contact: Jaelyn Eberle
jaelyn.eberle@colorado.edu
303-492-8069
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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