Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some brief words on ecological resilience to climate change

In one of the more colorful recent developments in the global climate change debate, New York Times reporter Andy Rivkin reports that the identification of an extinct giant snake has fed a debate over the ecological consequences of warming, particularly in the tropics.

Recently discovered vertebrae fossil remains indicate that the 60 million year old snake, termed "Titanoboa," was more than 40 feet long and weighed over a ton. More importantly, however, this giant thrived in a tropical environment with estimated average annual temperatures of 75-79 degrees, significantly higher than in modern times. This finding has been interpreted by some commentators to suggest that ecosystems are more resilient in the face of significantly higher temperatures than previously thought. In addition, Titanoboa has added to the debate over whether the climate system includes a "tropical thermostat" which helps to regulate temperatures in tropical regions. This second debate has significant implications, because the existence of a functional thermostat may ameliorate warming.

Rivkin's post on this issue is well worth a read, both because it encapsulates an important part of the climate debate, and because it includes a pretty awesome artist's depiction of the terrifying Titanoboa.

No comments:

Post a Comment