Toasty tropics during the Paleocene?

Move over dendro, there’s a new ‘biomometer’ in town.

By now you’ve probably heard about the discovery of a GIANT FRICKING SNAKE (or Titanoboa cerrejonensis as it’s officially known) recently published in Nature. By examining fossilized vertebrae and rib bones and comparing them to their modern counterparts, a team led by Jason Head of the University of Toronto estimates the size of the snake to be 12.8 m long, weighing 1,135 kg. Abstract here, Nature’s own coverage of the story here [full paper here]. The size of the snake indicates that the tropical Paleogene (specifically Paleocene) was warmer (as much as 5°C – it depends largely on assumptions about current anaconda size) than today. This is warmer than some prior proxy-based estimates (e.g. here), and support recent modeling efforts which likewise found the tropics warmer than previously inferred.

Artist’s (and co-author’s?) rendering of Titanoboa cerrejonensis (click to embiggen)

As I’m sure we all remember, not so very long ago it was dendro proxies that drove the denialosphere to paroxysms, leading to the unwieldy epithet “treemometer” (e.g. here, here). Derisive comments about this discovery in the context of paleoclimate as informing the current climate change discussion can’t be far behind.

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One of the co-authors (Carlos Jaramillo) states that this finding has implications for current assumptions as to the viability of tropical rainforests under further anthropogenic warming, but I’m not sure there is enough meat in this study to back that assumption. Peter Cox and others have done extensive work indicating that the Amazon could be in trouble well before 5C degrees of warming are seen in the tropics.

[UPDATE: Looks like Dot Earth is collecting commentary on the study. I didn’t even think about using this story to further undermine Lindzen’s “iris”. Andy, you sly dog.]

5 responses to “Toasty tropics during the Paleocene?

  1. Before getting carried away with Andy Revkin’s “sly” post I’d suggest taking into account his “challenges to both camps” schtick, his response following the first comment – plugging Motl’s denialist website (trash Hansen, talk up Vaclav Klaus, etc. etc.) and his “Editor’s Choice” pick of a post along the lines of “well, I guess both sides have a lot to learn – the scientific debate can continue.” With this kind of help the scientific “debate” will “continue” us all right over a cliff.

    [I caught that Editor’s Selection and commented on it at Dot Earth. The Motl comment I didn’t see. Disappointing. -TB]

  2. > atmospheric iris

    > snake
    On Science Friday (NPR) today, for scale — the snake would be between knee-high and hip-high, next to the researcher. And it’s a boa.

    What the _hell_ did they eat??

    He said there are _lots_ more fossils to come, currently being worked on in their lab and field — this one was found around 2000, nine years ago, and it’s taken this long to get the paper and publication through whatever-he-didn’t-say-exactly hoops the host country put up before they were allowed to publish this.

  3. Hm, I think the comment at the NYT by ‘Greenpa’ is worth considering – I know him, he generally knows what he’s talking about when he makes a comment like that. (That at that size, a snake or a big dinosaur has more trouble getting rid of heat than conserving it, and so the basis for the temperature number needs to be looked at.)

    Has anyone put the basis for the extrapolation of temperature up where it can be kibitzed by those who know more?

    [Good question. Looks like some relevant references are included in this post. – TB]

  4. As to0 what they ate:

    who knows, maybe they’ll find Giant Mouse fossils.

  5. Pingback: Provisional evidence for positive cloud feedback « The Way Things Break

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