Feeds

Global warming is actually good for rainforests, say boffins

+3°C, 1000ppm CO2 did jungles a world of good last time

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

OK, so let's take it that global warming is coming: that temperatures are set to rise by easily 3°C by the end of the century. Disaster, right? The tropical rainforests - lungs of the planet - will die, CO2 levels will thus rise even faster, a runaway process will set in and planet Earth will be transformed into a baking lifeless hell.

Not so much, according to top boffin Carlos Jaramillo of the US Smithsonian Institution. Jaramillo, who works at the Smithsonian's Tropical Research centre, says that 60 million years ago temperatures were up to 5°C higher than now and atmospheric CO2 was running close to 1000 parts per million - way beyond the planet-busting thresholds set by the UN - and yet the rainforests flourished.

"It is remarkable that there is so much concern about the effects of greenhouse conditions on tropical forests," says Jaramillo's Smithsonian colleague Klaus Winter.

Scientists led by Jaramillo examined the fossil record of the Paleocene-Eocene jungles of Colombia and Venezuela. Their research is published today in leading boffinry mag Science. The boffins write:

We observed a rapid and distinct increase in plant diversity and origination rates, with a set of new taxa, mostly angiosperms, added to the existing stock of low-diversity Paleocene flora. There is no evidence for enhanced aridity in the northern Neotropics. The tropical rainforest was able to persist under elevated temperatures and high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast to speculations that tropical ecosystems were severely compromised by heat stress.

"Rainforests were doing very well" during the high-carbon, significantly-hotter "thermal maximum" period studied by the scientists. They found that rather than making species extinct the warmth drove diversity and brought many new species into the world - including both passionflowers and chocolate.

So it would seem that even if temperatures do climb as many forecasters predict, the consequences may not be disastrous after all.

Jaramillo and his colleagues' paper, Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation, can be read by Science subscribers here. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.