Fossil evidence was discovered that shows the Gastornis bird lived on Ellesmere Island in the Arctic over 53-million years ago. The Gastornis bird was not the only avian fossil discovery that was made. Fossils found of the Presbyornis bird were also discovered. Of the two birds, the Gastornis is considered to be the more significant find. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Colorado Boulder have published their findings in the Scientific Reports journal.
The discovery that Gastornis lived in the Arctic is the first time evidence has been found of the bird living that far north. Researchers were only able to find a toe bone from the bird, but that was enough in order to identify Gastornis. The fossil was compared to, and matched, to fossils of Gastornis that were unearthed in Wyoming. One of the authors of the published study, Thomas Stidham, marveled at the similarities between the fossil found in the Arctic and the ones found in Wyoming.
“I couldn’t tell the Wyoming specimens from the Ellesmere specimen even though it was found roughly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) to the north.”
What Do We Know About The Gastornis Bird?
Researchers have been able to calculate the size of the Arctic bird based on pieces of skeleton that have been discovered over the years. Gastornis was close to six-feet tall, weighed hundreds of pounds, and a had a head of similar size to modern day horses. Dietary-wise, the Gastornis is believed to have been a herbivore meaning that it was a plant eater. Its diet consisted of fruits, seeds, and other plants that were plentiful in the tropical Arctic.
— The Ice Age (@Jamie_Woodward_) February 13, 2016
What Was The Arctic Like 53 Million Years Ago?
The Arctic tundra was much different 53 million years ago compared to today. Scientific discoveries have confirmed that the Arctic was the polar opposite of what it is now. It was a tropical environment. Average temperatures saw highs of 74 degrees and the area was lush with animals and plants that thrived in the tropical environment.
Compared to today, the area where Gastornis lived, Ellesmere Island, temperatures fall to a dangerous 40 degrees below zero. The once tropical island is now considered to be one of the coldest places on Earth. When the research into the Arctic climate was released in 2006, it shocked the science world. Yale geology professor Mark Pagani put it into perspective.
“Imagine a world where there are dense sequoia trees and cypress trees like in Florida that ring the Arctic Ocean, but the mosquitoes were probably the size of your head.”
Researchers have found fossils of animals that are similar to crocodiles, tropical fish, and primates that thrive in tropical climates. Researchers have compared the Arctic of 53 million years ago to the tropical areas of the southern United States. Research into the tropical Arctic show that greenhouse gasses were responsible for the warming of the area. The authors of the research paper in Scientific Reports claim that by studying and learning about how greenhouse gasses warmed the Arctic will lead to invaluable clues toward the current global warming we are currently seeing.
“I’m not suggesting there will be a return of alligators and giant tortoises to Ellesmere Island any time soon. But what we know about past warm intervals in the Arctic can give us a much better idea about what to expect in terms of changing plant and animal populations there in the future.”
Are you as excited about the discovery of the Gastornis bird in the Arctic as researchers are?
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