Fossil from Canadian Museum of Nature Collections

By studying the past, palaeontologists can shed light on the dynamic nature of climate, and its influence in shaping life on Earth. This fossil, now on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature, provides a clue to a dramatic tale of climate change.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


There is a clear consensus among scientists that human activity, namely the introduction into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases”, is the most significant factor contributing to Arctic warming today.

Palaeontology, the study of ancient life, adds to our understanding of the interactions and relationships between climate and ecosystems. Geological processes and events have always impacted climate on Earth, and the fossil record shows how communities of plant and animal species in an ecosystem can be drastically altered or replaced as a result.

Many geological processes which result in climate change typically occur slowly and result in gradual climate change over very long periods of time, while others, such as volcanic eruptions, can have sudden, very significant impacts. In modern times, human industrial activity has, for the first time in the planet’s history, been added to the list of factors influencing climate. Unlike slow geological processes, however, the human factor appears to be resulting in rapid and significant change. Understanding climate change in the past can help us better understand some of the ramifi Read More

There is a clear consensus among scientists that human activity, namely the introduction into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases”, is the most significant factor contributing to Arctic warming today.

Palaeontology, the study of ancient life, adds to our understanding of the interactions and relationships between climate and ecosystems. Geological processes and events have always impacted climate on Earth, and the fossil record shows how communities of plant and animal species in an ecosystem can be drastically altered or replaced as a result.

Many geological processes which result in climate change typically occur slowly and result in gradual climate change over very long periods of time, while others, such as volcanic eruptions, can have sudden, very significant impacts. In modern times, human industrial activity has, for the first time in the planet’s history, been added to the list of factors influencing climate. Unlike slow geological processes, however, the human factor appears to be resulting in rapid and significant change. Understanding climate change in the past can help us better understand some of the ramifications of present and future change.

One example of evidence of dramatic climate change is associated with the fossils highlighted in this Learning Object. These fossils were excavated at a site which was first discovered by helicopter in 1985 by the Geological Survey of Canada. The following year, Dr. James Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan headed up an expedition to the site, where a treasure trove of fossils was discovered. More than 20 successive layers of stumps, fallen logs and leaf litter were discovered, each covered by sediment from ancient floods. Scientists from the Canadian Conservation Institute, the Geological Survey of Canada, and the Canadian Museum of Nature also studied the site. Some of these fossils are now either on display or in the scientific collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature.

 


© 2007, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain why different ecosystems respond differently to short-term stresses and long-term changes.
  • Show that the interactions among living and nonliving things are regulating mechanisms that exist within an ecosystem.
  • Describe geological evidence that suggests life forms, climate, continental positions, and Earth's crust have changed over time
  • State a prediction and a hypothesis based on available evidence and background information

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