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Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs
    Book Description:

    Donald R. Prothero's science books combine leading research with first-person narratives of discovery, injecting warmth and familiarity into a profession that has much to offer nonspecialists. Bringing his trademark style and wit to an increasingly relevant subject of concern, Prothero links the climate changes that have occurred over the past 200 million years to their effects on plants and animals. In particular, he contrasts the extinctions that ended the Cretaceous period, which wiped out the dinosaurs, with those of the later Eocene and Oligocene epochs.

    Prothero begins with the "greenhouse of the dinosaurs," the global-warming episode that dominated the Age of Dinosaurs and the early Age of Mammals. He describes the remarkable creatures that once populated the earth and draws on his experiences collecting fossils in the Big Badlands of South Dakota to sketch their world. Prothero then discusses the growth of the first Antarctic glaciers, which marked the Eocene-Oligocene transition, and shares his own anecdotes of excavations and controversies among colleagues that have shaped our understanding of the contemporary and prehistoric world.

    The volume concludes with observations about Nisqually Glacier and other locations that show how global warming is happening much quicker than previously predicted, irrevocably changing the balance of the earth's thermostat. Engaging scientists and general readers alike, Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs connects events across thousands of millennia to make clear the human threat to natural climate change.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51832-1
    Subjects: Paleontology, General Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. 1 Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs
    (pp. 1-31)

    When one thinks of dinosaurs, the first image that pops into mind is that of huge sauropods wandering through warm, lush jungles of conifers and cycads or Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex battling it out in a landscape populated by magnolias and other primitive flowering plants. We hear about the warm climates and dense vegetation of the age of dinosaurs and of the discovery of their remains in tropical and temperate latitudes from Montana to Mongolia to Malawi. Even though Mongolia and Montana are now harsh high-altitude deserts or steppes with blazing hot summers and extremely cold winters, their transformation into...

  6. 2 Bad Lands, Good Fossils
    (pp. 33-67)

    The heat is unbelievable. The ground is literally too hot to touch or even sit on. Even my boot soles feel as if they’re melting. The narrow canyons with their tan and white walls act as a reflector oven, making the air temperatures higher than 43°C (110°F). My eyes are almost blinded by the intense glare, but I dare not wear sunglasses because my quarry is small scraps of bone and shiny black tooth enamel that would be hard to see with sunglasses. These specimens are the crucial clues to finding precious fossils in this hellish, unforgiving place. A large...

  7. 3 Magnets and Lasers
    (pp. 69-95)

    June 25, 1983, dawned warm and clear, like so many other summer days in the Badlands. We were camped near the visitor’s center just south of Cedar Pass, the headquarters of Badlands National Park. My field crew consisted of my good friend Annie Walton, an Amherst grad planning to enter grad school in paleontology; my former Vassar student Allison Kozak, who had been on my seven-week Vassar geology cross-country trip in the summer of 1981; and my current student Rob Lander, who was finishing his bachelor’s degree in geology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where I was teaching at...

  8. 4 “Punk Eek” in the Badlands
    (pp. 97-119)

    By the mid-twentieth century, paleontology had acquired the academic reputation as a musty, fuddy-duddy science. Up until the 1970s, most paleontology classes consisted of memorizing long lists of fossil names, their ranges in time, and the details of their anatomy. Classic textbooks of the early and middle twentieth century (such as Moore, Lalicker, and Fischer 1953) were almost entirely devoted to long detailed chapters with nearly every important taxon of fossil and almost no discussions of the theoretical principles behind paleontology. Most paleontology presentations at professional meetings were of the nature of “a new species of X” or “a new...

  9. 5 Death of the Dinosaurs
    (pp. 121-143)

    Most people think that science is about planning your research carefully to achieve some specific goal. They are often not tolerant about “pure research” that doesn’t have a specific conclusion in mind, but is focused on finding out general facts about nature, whether they have practical uses or not. Even the scientific funding agencies operate this way, rewarding research that is conventional and “more of the same,” but seldom funding research that is a speculative gamble. Again and again, talking heads on television or in Congress ridicule “pure research” that doesn’t have a specific practical goal or application. Narrow-minded and...

  10. 6 Marine World
    (pp. 145-171)

    August 12, 1998. My student crew and I are wading at low tide along the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula between the tiny towns of Twin Rivers and Pysht, Washington (see the photograph that opens this chapter and figure 6.1). The slime and muck are unbelievable, and the place stinks of rotting algae and seaweed as well. Each time we take a step, our foot sinks in. Each time we pull out a foot with great effort, it makes a loud sucking sound, and we are up to our knees in slime. My student Linda Donohoo does this once,...

  11. 7 Rocky Mountain Jungles and Eels’ Ears
    (pp. 173-195)

    June 1, 2003. My crew and I are hiking in the high meadows of the Rocky Mountains in Florissant National Monument, Colorado. We’re at an elevation more than 2,600 meters (8,600 feet), and we’re huffing and puffing as we hike along in such a thin atmosphere, even though we’re not climbing any steep slopes. We’re surrounded by typical high-altitude mountain vegetation of the Colorado Rockies: dense groves of ponderosa pine, aspen, fir, and spruce, plus shrubs and grasses that grow only in the summer. In the winters, this area is under many feet of snow, and during the summers the...

  12. 8 From Greenhouse to Icehouse
    (pp. 197-215)

    The general public hears only about the successful experiments in science. What is usually not reported is the fact that for every scientific success, there may be numerous failures, false leads, and blind alleys. Most people would find this imbalance discouraging, but scientists learn early in their careers that they should expect a number of failed experiments, but also that these failures can lead them to better ideas. As philosophers of science pointed out long ago, science is about testing and falsifying hypotheses. No number of positive or consistent observations can ever prove a statement true (e.g., “all swans are...

  13. 9 Once and Future Greenhouse?
    (pp. 217-231)

    August 2002. Taking a break from fieldwork along the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, my family and I drove through Mount Rainier National Park. We stopped at all the usual tourist sights, got my son a T-shirt at the Paradise Visitor’s Center, and headed out the southwest entrance back toward Tacoma. As we drove over the bridge over the Nisqually Valley, I stopped to take a picture of the Nisqually Glacier. To my shock and horror, we could no longer see the glacier from the bridge. All that remained was a river valley clogged with boulders and...

  14. 10 Kids, Dinosaurs, and the Future of Paleontology
    (pp. 233-246)

    As a profession, paleontology has an interesting and peculiar position in society. To the public, dinosaurs are cool, and paleontology has a positive image thanks to Jurassic Park and the mania for dinosaurs. Unfortunately, most of the public is so woefully ignorant of science that they confuse paleontology with archeology and think that anyone who studies ancient things must be in the same specialty. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the public and the media use the term archeologist to describe a paleontologist (and vice versa) or how many times people have asked me about ancient ruins or...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-266)
  16. Index
    (pp. 267-274)