The development of horses, grassland ecosystems and climate are closely correlated
Several processes working together have contributed to the reduction of atmospheric CO₂ since the Eocene and the resulting phase of cooler temperatures. An important factor is increased ocean plankton growth. As these plankton cells died, they settled to the ocean bottom and were buried – along with their carbon – in deep-sea sediments. These sediments have held the carbon ever since. The resulting long-term loss of carbon from the system reduced the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. In turn, this reduced average global temperatures and set the stage for the later development of the ice ages. Today, the reverse process is happening: The burning of fossil fuels like natural gas, mineral oil, or coal releases carbon that had been held in the earth for 100s of millions of years. The result is a sharp increase of CO₂ and global temperatures.
(Image: A modern phytoplankton species, Asterolampra marylandica, J.R. Dolan & G. Hagedorn, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Images: Antje Dittmann, Carola Radke (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin), Google Streetview, Lothar Rössling, British Museum, J.R. Dolan
Text: Gregor Hagedorn, Faysal Bibi, David Lazarus (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)
For more information on Messel pit we highly recommend the Online Exhibition of our close partner Senckenberg:
UNESCO World Heritage Messel Pit Fossil Site – An ecosystem in Hesse 48 million years ago.