CCNet TERRA 4/2003 -  15 January 2003

  "Fewer frost days, cold days and cold waves are very likely over
  nearly all land areas." 
    --IPCC (2001) prediction of climate changes in the 21st century.

  "This winter the Gulf of Finland has frozen over in its entirety
  for the first time since 1947."
    --The Moscow Times, 14 January 2003

  "In Uttar Pradesh, the city of Kanpur last week recorded an all-time low
  of zero degrees Celsius."
     --Agence France Press, 14 January 2003

  "In recent weeks information has emerged that is sending an icy
  blast through the climate research establishment. It shows that
  the Earth is refusing to follow the script climatologists have
  written for it.... Despite these latest findings, most climate
  scientists insist that man-made pollution must eventually make
  its presence felt. Yet the repeated failure of their computer
  models to match reality is becoming ever harder to ignore - and
  raises grave doubts about the wisdom of basing government policy
  on their predictions."
     --Robert Matthews, The Sunday Telegraph, 12 January 2003

    Agence France Press, 14 January 2003

    The Times of India, 14 January 2003

    Agence France Press, 15 January 2003

    The Moscow Times, 14 January 2003

    Helsingin Sanomat, 13 January 2003

    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <>
    The Observer, 12 January 2003

    Die Presse (Vienna), 13 January

    The Sunday Telegraph, 12 January 2003

     Andrew Glikson <>

     Benny Peiser <>

     (AND SO ARE WE)
     Ron Baalke <>


>From Agence France Press, 14 January 2003

NEW DELHI, Jan 13: Wide swathes of tropical Bangladesh, Nepal and India
remained gripped by a savage cold wave on Monday that has killed nearly
1,200 since Christmas and left millions shivering.

Dhaka meteorologists warned on Monday that Bangladesh's coldest winter
in years, which has killed 540 people since mid-December, was tightening
its icy grip after offering a short respite.

Millions of Hindus in India's frozen north prayed for an end to the cold
wave, hoping the annual Lohri festival to mark the start of spring would
make the sun shine brighter.

Weather experts, however, poured cold water on the hopes of the millions
who Monday lit Lohri bonfires in cities, towns and villages, warning the
chilly temperatures were likely to last.

"We don't expect the cold wave to subside in the next two days at
least," Northern Hemisphere Analysis Centre Director Onkari Prasad said
in Delhi, where temperatures crashed to a record 3.7 degrees Sunday.

"But we believe that Lohri, which is also the beginning of our
harvesting season, will wipe out the cold and tomorrow we will see the
sun dance in the skies," said R.P. Tandon, a Lohri organiser.

All of northern India has suffered prolonged brown-outs for the past two
weeks as electricity consumption shot up by up to 20 percent amid
cold-related demand.

State authorities have begun to dole out blankets to Bihar's poorest,
many of whom have moved to schools and government buildings to shelter
from the wind-aided cold wave, officials said.

In Uttar Pradesh, the city of Kanpur last week recorded an all-time low
of zero degrees Celsius.

Copyright 2003, AFP


>From The Times of India, 14 January 2003
PATNA: Cold wave conditions continued unabated in Bihar claiming at
least 85 lives as icy westerly winds swept the state.

Official sources said 13 more deaths were reported from Chapra (5),
Darbhanga (2), Samastipur (3) and Khagaria (3) during the past 48 hours,
taking the toll in the current spell of cold wave to 85. Unofficial
sources, however, put the death toll at 195.

Patna has been reeling under the worst-ever cold spell since the start
of the new year and the ordeal may continue for a few more days, met
office sources said.


>From Agence France Press, 15 January 2003,4386,166228,00.html?

MOSCOW - A merciless blast of Arctic weather has claimed still more
victims across central and eastern Europe, with thousands of residents
having to endure record low temperatures without any heating.

Several ships, meanwhile, found themselves trapped in thick ice that has
surrounded ports, while more than 20 people died recently from the
intense cold in Latvia, Hungary and as far west as Portugal.

In Moscow, emergency services announced that a further five people had
died from the cold snap in the city, bringing the total death toll this
winter to 286. --AFP


>From The Moscow Times, 14 January 2003

As temperatures in Moscow inched up to a balmy minus 5 degrees Celsius,
many other parts of the country remained in a deep freeze. Monday, with
more than 28,000 Russians shivering in unheated apartments, the
president chiding his Cabinet and northern ports threatened with
shutdowns due to ice.

Holiday spirits have been "very much dampened" by heating problems,
President Vladimir Putin told a Cabinet meeting, as a government
commission toured the areas hardest hit by this winter's unusually cold

In Moscow, 25 people died of hypothermia over the past week, city health
committee spokeswoman Lyubov Zhomova said Monday. The capital's death
toll this cold season was reported to have topped 300, but more precise
statistics were not immediately available, Zhomova said.

As the country's heating woes entered a third week with little sign of
easing up, public officials angrily exchanged recriminations.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg navigation authorities closed the city's
seaport to small vessels incapable of maneuvering through the
meter-thick ice, Interfax said.

This winter the Gulf of Finland, on which the city is situated, has
frozen over in its entirety for the first time since 1947, the city's
weather service told the agency.


>From Helsingin Sanomat, 13 January 2003

Recent cold temperatures have resulted in an unusually difficult ice
situation in Finnish waters. The Gulf of Finland is now completely
ice-bound. Open water begins west of Hanko, on Finland's southwest tip,
and if it were not for the shipping lanes kept open throughout the
winter, it would be theoretically possible to walk from Finland to


>From NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory <>
Alan Buis  (818) 354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.   

Dr. Mark Drinkwater  +31 (0) 71 565 4514
European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Michael Smart  (801) 422-7320
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Dr. Steve Harangozo  01 1223 221437
British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom  January 13, 2003
News Release: 2003-004

NASA Instrument Captures Early Antarctic Ice Shelf Melting

An international research team using data from NASA's SeaWinds
instrument aboard the Quick Scatterometer spacecraft has detected the
earliest yet recorded pre-summer melting event in a section of
Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf.  This huge, nearly 200 meter (656 foot)
thick plate of glacier-fed floating ice, which in the late 1980s was
about as large as Indiana, experienced dramatic disintegration events
beginning in 1995 that have reduced its area by nearly 10 percent, or
more than two trillion tons of ice. 

Researchers Dr. Mark Drinkwater of the European Space Agency, Dr. David
Long of Brigham Young University and Dr. Steve Harangozo of the British
Antarctic Survey used near real time Quick Scatterometer (QuikScat) data
to document a rapid, extensive melting of the Larsen C Ice Shelf in
Antarctica's Weddell Sea from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29, 2002.  The melting,
which extended to 68 degrees south, was triggered by a mid-latitude
cyclone that delivered warm air to the region.  The same storm is
believed to have also caused a noticeable recession in the sea-ice
margin to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula.  The QuikScat images are
available at:

Air temperatures in the region typically exceed freezing for a few days
on or after November 1 each year-a precursor to sustained summer melting
that normally sets in several weeks later at these latitudes.  The
cumulative duration of these annual summer melting events is likely to
have increased substantially over the past 50 years as summer average
air temperatures on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula have
warmed appreciably (approximately two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees
Fahrenheit).  Scientists believe these events are responsible for the
previous breakups of Larsen and other ice shelves.  Therefore, the
ability to observe such events in near real time using scatterometers is
of great interest to researchers, since they may provide invaluable
clues to the fate of other, much larger Antarctic ice shelves.

While scientists used to believe there was no connection between recent
Antarctic Peninsula warming and the natural cycle of deglaciation,
recent field measurements provide some evidence to suggest the frequency
of summer melting, and the resulting quantities of melt water
penetrating ice shelves, may be connected with the accelerated
disintegration of Larsen and other Antarctic ice shelves. 

"The water is believed to penetrate cracks and fissures in the ice and
refreeze at depth, where the ice is relatively colder," said Drinkwater.
"As the ice expands, this process effectively drives a wedge into
existing cracks to accelerate the natural fracture process."

Scatterometers operate by transmitting high-frequency microwave pulses
to Earth's surface and measuring the "backscattered," or echoed, radar
pulses bounced back to the satellite.  Moshe Pniel, scatterometer
projects manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.,
which developed and manages the instruments, said scatterometers such as
SeaWinds on QuikScat and a similar SeaWinds instrument on Japan's
recently launched Advanced Earth Observing Satellite 2 (Adeos 2), are
proving to be increasingly important in monitoring land and ice

"Scatterometers can effectively and quickly detect the difference
between melting and dry surfaces," he said. "They provide an important
new tool in our capability to monitor climate change impacts on the
Antarctic ice cover on a daily basis. These scatterometer data are vital
in the southern hemisphere because near real time synthetic aperture
radar data is not available there on a frequent, uninterrupted basis.
QuikScat measurements being compiled and archived in the Scatterometer
Climate Record Pathfinder study by Long and Drinkwater
( enable critical assessments of the links
between changes taking place in global ice cover and associated changes
in important elements of Earth's closely-linked ocean-atmosphere climate

QuikScat measurements and image data developed by Long are processed and
distributed in near real time by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, providing scientists at the British Antarctic Survey and
elsewhere with rapid access to low-resolution radar data that can be
used to report melt events. The British Antarctic Survey compiles and
distributes Antarctic Meteorological Station data in near real time.   

More information about SeaWinds is available at: .
NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is a long-term research effort to
understand and protect our home planet.  The California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.


>From The Observer, 12 January 2003,12374,873273,00.html

Robin McKie, science editor

Climate change is inevitable, unpredictable, and has been responsible
for bringing down some of the world's greatest civilisations. Soon it
may do the same to ours.

That is the conclusion of researchers who have found that the Mayans -
whose empire reached its peak around 700AD - were destroyed because
central America was afflicted by a 200-year drought.

The discovery has been made by the American archaeologist [and CCNet
member] Richardson Gill, who argues that the Mayans - famed for their
massive stepped pyramids and astronomy - simply starved to death when
their water supplies ran dry, a fate that has profound implications for
the future of humanity.

Gill's research, based on studies of ice cores taken from glaciers in
the Andes, is controversial. Many historians believe only cultural
changes such as war, trade or rebellion affect the course of history and
that people can always adapt to climate change. In the case of the
Mayans, it is generally assumed they were destroyed by invaders.

Gill's work challenges this. 'I have seen with my own eyes the
devastating effects of drought,' he says in Scientific American.
Deprived of water, the Mayans could no longer grow crops and perished.

Gill and his contemporaries argue that humanity is much more vulnerable
to weather changes than realised. Studies of tree rings and ice cores
taken from glaciers have created a detailed pattern of climate
fluctuations going back a thousand years. When matched against
historical events, these have revealed startling correspondences.

The Vikings colonised Iceland, Greenland and North America at a time
when Europe was enjoying warm weather. Then, around AD1300, the weather
worsened and the Little Ice Age began, gripping the world until around
1880. Its worst periods coincided with the Irish potato famine, the
destruction of the Spanish Armada, and the French Revolution, while the
Viking settlements in America and Greenland were wiped out.

'The weather of 1788 didn't start the French Revolution,' historian
Brian Fagan says, 'but the shortage of grain and bread contributed in
large measure to its timing.' Similarly, it wasn't the navy that saved
England from the Armada in 1588, it was the lousy weather.

Even small fluctuations have had an impact that still affects us, adds
Fagan. For example, in 1816, summer temperatures fell to winter levels.
Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley, stuck in Switzerland, had to
entertain themselves. Thus Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was born in an
atmosphere of dank climatic failure. Similarly, Charles Dickens's
experiences of bitter winters influenced his stories, including A
Christmas Carol, from which we still derive our snow-decked yuletide

The new research indicates even cultures in the tropics are vulnerable
to climatic disruption.

'The reasons for the collapse of the Mayan civilisation have always been
controversial,' bio-geographer Philip Stott says. 'But this indicates
that drought was a critical factor, even though the Mayans were based in
a part of the world considered to be hot and wet.

'And if the weather killed off the Mayans, what other great tropical
civilisations might have suffered? The cause of the demise of Angkor,
home of the great Khmer kings of Cambodia, has always puzzled
historians. Drought may well have caused their collapse.'

If the world has been so vulnerable in the past, it is certainly at risk
in future. With the world's population heading towards nine billion, and
global temperatures rising, the danger is increasing.

'More than 200 million people now live in marginal lands - round the
Sahara and in Bangladesh, for example,' Fagan adds. 'Another major
fluctuation and the death toll could dwarf anything that has affected
humanity before.'

Stott says: 'The fluctuations indicate the cold periods are the
calamitous ones - which suggests all our fears about global warming may
be misplaced.'

Copyright 2003, The Observer


>From Die Presse (Vienna), 13 January

Vienna: Another round has been lost in the struggle against greenhouse
gases, the emission of which causes global warming: in 2001 the amount
of these gases emitted into the atmosphere by Austrian sources went up
by almost 5 per cent, exactly by 4.8 per cent. This is shown by the
statistics of the Federal Environment Office (UBA). The most important
of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide (CO2).

The Environment Ministry sees primarily two reasons for this: the very
cold winter, which meant more heating, and the increase in emissions by

In the Kyoto Protocol Austria committed itself to reducing the amount of
greenhouse gases by 13 per cent by the end of the calculation period,
which is between 2008 and 2012. The basis is the year 1990. Since then,
however, emissions have been going up steadily. The climate of 2001 is
similar to that of 1996 - but even compared with the values of that year
there was an increase in 2001 - by 1.5 per cent.


>From The Sunday Telegraph, 12 January 2003

By Robert Matthews

Commuters shivering in last week's bitterly cold weather could be
forgiven for wondering whatever happened to global warming. The whole
northern hemisphere, from Florida to Finland, Germany to Japan, was in
the grip of a cold snap that seemed more in line with a new Ice Age.

Aid agencies in Bangladesh handed out blankets to stem the toll of
cold-related deaths, which has already topped 100. In Vietnam, baffled
villagers came out to study the inch-thick layer of odd, cold white
stuff that was blanketing the countryside. In China, a 700-mile stretch
of the Yellow River turned to ice.

Advocates of global warming last week insisted that the recent cold
weather is just a blip that says nothing about long-term climate change.
Instead, they pointed to the recent announcement that on a global scale
2002 was the second-hottest year ever recorded.

Yet in recent weeks information has emerged that is sending an icy blast
through the climate research establishment. It shows that the Earth is
refusing to follow the script climatologists have written for it. For
more than a decade, scientists have been developing sophisticated
computer models of the Earth's climate, in an attempt to forecast the
impact of alleged global warming. While these models differ in their
fine details, they all agree on one thing: that global warming caused by
man-made pollution should strike the polar regions first.

Typically, the models predict that the level of warming around the Poles
should be about twice the global average, causing large-scale melting of
snow and ice - with potentially devastating consequences for the planet.
With temperature records suggesting that the warming began a century
ago, the big melt-down should now be well under way. Yet the latest
research not only fails to give any evidence for it, but points to the
exact opposite: a deepening of the polar freeze.

Last month a team led by Professor Igor Polyakov, of the University of
Alaska, published its study of recently released weather records kept by
Russian scientists based in the Arctic from the 1870s onwards. The
results flatly contradict the computer models. They show that - far from
warming up faster than the rest of the Earth - the Arctic has actually
been cooling since the 1920s. Put simply, say the researchers, "The air
temperature and ice data do not support the proposed polar amplification
of global warming."

In a report of their findings in the leading climate research journal
Eos, they conclude: "The Arctic poses severe challenges to generating
credible model-based projections of climate change."

It is not only their temperature predictions that are falling foul of
reality. The 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change - regarded as the scientific consensus on global warming -
predicts that snowfall levels in the Northern Hemisphere should decline
as the planet warms up.

Yet new research by Canadian scientists shows that the opposite is
happening. Ice-core measurements made by a team led by Dr Kent Moore, of
the University of Toronto, reveal that the amount of snow falling in the
Yukon region has not only failed to decline over the past century as
global warming theorists predict - it has actually increased. In the
journal Nature, the team concludes: "We find a positive, accelerating
trend in snow accumulation after the middle of the nineteenth century."

Other supposed signs of global warming are also failing to fall into
line with the computer predictions. Recent studies of the West Antarctic
Ice Sheet, frequently cited in scares about melting ice and global
floods, now suggest man-made global warming has had little impact on it,
and that it may actually be getting thicker in some places.

A similar picture has emerged with icebergs, whose increasing numbers
have been taken as proof that global warming is melting polar
ice-sheets. New research suggests that the trend is largely due to
changes in counting methods, and provides no good evidence of global

Despite these latest findings, most climate scientists insist that
man-made pollution must eventually make its presence felt. Yet the
repeated failure of their computer models to match reality is becoming
ever harder to ignore - and raises grave doubts about the wisdom of
basing government policy on their predictions.

Copyright 2003, The Sunday Telegraph



>From Andrew Glikson <>

Dear Benny,

As testified by the opposite historical cases of Galileo and Lysenko,
science, being the "child of freedom", has always been subject to
attack, or manipulation, by those who disliked or objected to its
findings, not least those in authority. The case of Bjorn Lomborg book
"The Skeptical Environmentalist" is a glaring modern example:



The issue is too important to be glossed over - what is the responsible
and ethical way of dealing with this question?

Traditionally the scientific method has its checks and balances using
the expert reviewing system, such as applied by the most reputable
Journals, for example Science and Nature, as well as a plethora of
specialized journals. It is accepted that, in complex technical matters,
scientists whose life-long work is dedicated to study the subjects in
question, are in best position of presenting the relevant assessments.
Where serious controversies arise, scientific panels consisting of such
experts are formed to ensure scientific ethics are adhered to, as is the
practice among the medical profession, as well as other professions.
Such panels do not constitute "witch hunts" or "Stalinist show trials",
but the logical way of dealing with the complex technical issues in

Those among the public or the hierarchy who dislike or object to the
finding of individual scientists or groups of scientists have the onus
of advancing relevant technical arguments, rather than shooting the

With remarkable honesty, the Editor of CCNet does not deny his
ideological preferences - expressed through (1) his stated opinions and
(2) the prioritization and labeling/titling of contributions to CCNet. 

The first method is perfectly legitimate.

The second method can only result in discouraging submissions by those
whose views differ from those of the editor. News and views should not
be given mock terms ("witch hunt", "shock, horror"), for example the
titling of the statement by the World Watch Organization ("AND FINALLY:
"TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR HUMANS" - AGAIN") (CCNet 10.1.03). Either time
is running out, or it is not, this is too serious an issue for
disparaging terms ("again").

Views such as those of Washington-based World-watch or the Danish
scientific committee should be given equal exposure as those of Bjorn
Lomborg and his supporters. Only then will CCNet be able justify its
claim to be a "A scholarly electronic network".

Yours Truly

Dr Andrew Glikson
14 January, 2003


>From Benny Peiser <>

Should scientists be allowed to poke fun at apocalyptic media headlines?
The end of humankind is "too serious an issue" for taking the mickey, I
am told. I must confess that lampooning the incessantly predicted demise
of our species is indeed enchanting. In fact, it is extremely healthy in
the current battle against cultural pessimism and despair. But is it
ethical to laugh about serious issues and should it be permitted?

Andrew Glikson's complaint about my mocking treatment of end-time
prophecies reminds me of a joke the late Julian Simon tells in one of
his books (The Ultimate Resource):

A professor giving a lecture on energy declares that the world will
perish in seven billion years' time because the sun will then burn out.
One of the audience becomes very agitated, asks the professor to repeat
what he said, and then, completely reassured, heaves a sign of relief:
"Phew! I thought he said seven million years!"

But let's be serious for a moment. During the last 3000 years - from
Bronze Age catastrophe myths to religious divinations of Judgement Day
to modern conjectures about the Big Crunch and Carter's Doomsday
Argument - the end of the world has been prognosticated a myriad of
times! I consider myself a leading connoisseur of such pronouncements
(through all the ages) and know nearly all arguments ever employed to
attest that the end is nigh.

Form a historical perspective, therefore, adding the harmless
word "again" to an apocalyptic headline was therefore bang on. My
editorial reservation also guarantees that CCNet reader are under not
illusion as to my views regarding gloomy claims that are blown out of all

Which brings me to Andrew's most astonishing proclamation:


I am always a bit worried when I receive messages in capital letters: in
Andrew's case, however, I am more concerned with his rather simplistic
black-and-white picture of our extremely colourful world. Every
commonsensical researcher of the natural world agrees that there is no
uniform deterioration of our environment. It is also widely acknowledged
that pessimists tend to highlight occurrences of environmental  degradation
(or ecological disasters) while ignoring equally remarkable
records of environmental improvement.

Soil erosion, for instance, is indeed a serious problem in many poor
countries that lack modern methods of farming and farmland management.
In the US, in contrast, soil erosion has actually decreased since the

As Julian Simon has shown, the same disparity between the ecological
problems of poor and underdeveloped countries (which are mainly due to
poverty, corruption and political mismanagement) and significant
environmental improvements in wealthy and technologically developed
countries is evident with regards to forests, waters and atmospheric
pollution. Bjorn Lomborg didn't believe this more balanced assessment of
the world's environment either when he came upon Simon's work. But when
he and his students tried to debunk his research findings, Lomborg
noticed just how much his depressed perception was influnced by the
general pessimism of what he calls "The Litany".

"I asked myself why I was so definitely convinced that the environmental
situation is bad and deteriorating." It was this honest question which
led him to write The Skeptical Enivironmentalist.

With reference to the state of the world's forests, to mention the other
case in point Andrew mentions, environmental activists consistently play
up the scale of deforestation of the South American rainforest and the
Brazilian Amazon. At the same time, they turn a blind eye to the
substantial growth of forests in many other parts of the world. The
World-Watch Institute, to come back to Andrew's contention, claims that
global deforestation has been accelerating during the last 30 years. Yet
Lomborg, in agreement with recent forest surveys, makes the case that
globally the overall area covered by forests has changed very little. In
fact, when viewed over the last 50 years, global forest cover has
actually increased slightly.

Neither the state of the world's water resources nor its atmosphere is as
depressing as green lobby groups want us to believe. In short, there
seems to be plenty of time left for humans to take pleasure in a robust
and healthy planet whose land area is still covered by 30% with

And as regards CCNet, which is one of the few outlets that strives to
critically scrutinize any doom-laden scientific, climatalogical or
environmental prognostication, I reserve the right to maintain it as an
open forum for scepticism, lively debate and good humour. After all,
that is excatly what the vast majority of CCNet's 1200 subscribers enjoy
and appreciate.

Benny Peiser

>From Ron Baalke <>

Dinosaurs Experienced Climate Changes Before K-T Collision
Pennsylvnia State University
January 14, 2003

University Park, Pa. - Climate change had little to do with the demise
of the dinosaurs, but the last million years before their extinction had
a complex pattern of warming and cooling events that are important to our
understanding of the end of their reign, according to geologists.

"The terrestrial paleoclimate record near the K-T is historically
contradictory and poorly resolved," says Dr. Peter Wilf, assistant
professor of geosciences at Penn State. "In contrast, the resolution of
K-T marine climates that has emerged over the last 10 years is
excellent. Our work brings the terrestrial record up to speed so that we
can look for global climate events that occurred for both land and sea."

Wilf worked with Kirk R. Johnson, curator of paleontology, Denver Museum
of Nature & Science, who provided the data on land plant fossils and
Brian T. Huber, curator of Foraminifera, National Museum of Natural
History, Smithsonian Institution, who provided the marine data.

An extraterrestrial object that impacted the Earth near the Yucatan in
Mexico 65.51 million years ago doomed the dinosaurs and 70 percent of
the Earth's other species, vaporizing itself and the surrounding rocks
and throwing enough ash, soot and debris into the atmosphere to
effectively stop photosynthesis worldwide. This impact radically altered
the natural progression of evolution. The time of the impact is called
the K-T boundary and marked the end of Cretaceous Period and the
beginning of the Tertiary Period.

"It could be argued that we are still recovering from that impact and
the mass extinctions of dinosaurs, mammals, insects, plants and sea life
that it caused," says Wilf, who worked on this project at the University
of Michigan before coming to Penn State. "For example, not only the
dinosaurs, but also 80 to 90 percent of the Cretaceous plant species,
including all the dominant species, disappeared."

According to Wilf, there is a lingering minority argument that the K-T
extinction was caused by climate change, but the research team's
results, published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, both document the climate changes and show that
they were not the principal cause.

Wilf, Johnson and Huber first worked to create a finely resolved
terrestrial temperature record, based on plant fossils, and then
correlated that record with the existing marine records.

Plant fossils from the one million-year period before the extinction
that are abundant and well preserved in a fine time sequence are found
only in New Mexico and North Dakota. Of the two, the North Dakota sites
are comparably much more intensively collected and studied and enabled
Johnson to collect 22,000 plant fossils of more than 300 fossil plant

"Only in the last year, with the publication of an entire volume filled
with new research results on the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota,
can we do this work and tie the plant fossil record there to actual
dates in millions of years rather than relative dates," says Wilf.
Johnson is a co-editor and contributor for the Hell Creek volume.

Fossils can be dated relatively by their position in the stratigraphy or
layers of sediment using a simple rule. In undisturbed layers, the
oldest fossils are in the lowest layers and the most recent fossils are
in higher levels. Tying relative dates to real dates is not easy,
especially keeping within the 100,000 year sensitivity available in the
marine record, which comes from the scientific results of the ocean
drilling program.

Luckily, the K-T extinction occurred during a short interval in the
Earth's magnetic pole reversals. Periodically, the Earth's poles switch
polarity making North negative and South positive. Eventually, another
switch occurs making North positive and South negative. A record of the
Earth's paleomagnetism is recorded in the rocks as they are laid down.

"Three hundred and thirty-three thousand years before the extinction, a
pole reversal occurred," says Wilf. "Two hundred and seventy thousand
years after the extinction, another reversal occurred."

Because the researchers have three datable points --the two reversals
and the K-T impact - they could attach ages to the layers and the
fossils within and correlate the terrestrial and marine data at much finer
resolution than ever before.

Simply equating the layers, however, was not enough. The researchers
needed to estimate the temperature of the environment in which each
fossil grew. For the plants, this turned out to be simple, using a method
first developed in 1915 that is still widely used today.

Modern forests have two types of trees, those with toothed leaves and
those with smooth leaves. The cooler the climate, the higher the
percentage of species with toothed leaves.

"The presence of palm species also suggests a warm climate as these
plants cannot survive the ground freezing," says Wilf.

The researchers found from the plants that the long, slow cooling that
occurred for millions of years of the Late Cretaceous was broken by a
warming event that began about 66 million years ago and peaked 300,000
to 100,000 years before the K-T collision. The temperatures then
returned to baseline just before the collision and stayed nearly constant
before and after the collision. The plant record agreed strongly with the
marine data, which comes from ocean coring projects in the South Atlantic,
Antarctica and off the shores of New Jersey and Florida, and is based on
the oxygen isotope ratios in the skeletons of marine-shelled
micropredators called Foraminifera. The colder the water, the more of
the heavier oxygen isotope is incorporated in the calcium carbonate of
the shells. The sediments that entomb the forams also record the
paleomagnetic reversals around the K-T.

Because the marine data come from four different locations and the
terrestrial data from a fifth, the warming and cooling trends seem
global, according to Wilf. The marine data also show that warm water
forams migrated from the tropics as far as New Jersey and Antarctica.

While the mean annual temperature in North Dakota today is 43 to 45
degrees Fahrenheit, during the warmest part of the warming episode, the
mean annual temperature was from 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The North
Dakota site was then at the same latitude as Quebec City, Canada, and
not only palm trees, but alligators and turtles thrived too.

"The K-T impact affected the Earth's living things severely and
dramatically, but the climate changes right before the impact, by
comparison, did not," says Wilf. "Understanding the climate and
vegetation before the impact gives us insight into what kind of world
the meteorite struck, and shows us that it was warming, cooling, lushly
forested and otherwise functioning the way it always has done. The
dinosaurs were well adapted to global warming and cooling, but not to
giant speeding rocks from space."

The American Chemical Society, National Science Foundation and
Smithsonian Institution funded this research.


A'ndrea Elyse Messer (814) 865-9481
Vicki Fong (814) 865-9481
EDITORS: Dr. Wilf is at 814-865-6721 or at
by e-mail.
Dr. Johnson is at 303-370-6448 or at by e-mail.
Dr.Huber is at 202-786-2658 or at by e-mail.

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