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    Insights into Pangea’s Harsh Climate: Lessons for Modern Climate Change

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    Extreme sailing conditions in Antarctica, as a three masted schooner sails south in a gale, passing the snow-capped mountains and glaciers of the South Shetland Islands.
    Extreme sailing conditions in Antarctica, as a three masted schooner sails south in a gale, passing the snow-capped mountains and glaciers of the South Shetland Islands.

    As modern researchers unravel the history of Earth’s climate, the supercontinent Pangea offers a glimpse into a world with extreme weather far different from our own.

    wind and weather shaped abstract snow sculpture
    wind and weather shaped abstract snow sculpture

    Approximately 250 million years ago, when dinosaurs were still in their evolutionary infancy, all land masses were conjoined into Pangea, surrounded by a vast ocean called Panthalassa.

    Harsh climate in the mountains, broken, dry trees
    Harsh climate in the mountains, broken, dry trees

    The analysis of ancient weather patterns, according to studies by Kutzbach and Crowley, paints a portrait of a supercontinent where seasonal temperature fluctuations could exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Forrey du Day, the Day Forrest in the mountains of Djibouti, East Africa
    Forrey du Day, the Day Forrest in the mountains of Djibouti, East Africa

    Summers were blistering, winters biting, and the interior lands, insulated from the ocean’s tempering effect, were subjected to such extremes that much of it could have been barely habitable.

    A broken lonely tree on the edge of a mountain glade.
    A broken lonely tree on the edge of a mountain glade.

    Amid these climatic challenges, life found a way. Jessica Whiteside from San Diego State University notes that biodiversity was highest in higher latitudes, opposing the present-day trend where the tropics are richest in species.

    Tourist walks by glacier lagoon on a cold, cloudy day in southern Iceland. Glacier falls into the water. Harsh, dramatic, misty weather.
    Tourist walks by glacier lagoon on a cold, cloudy day in southern Iceland. Glacier falls into the water. Harsh, dramatic, misty weather.

    Primitive non-flowering plants were prolific, with conifers, ferns, and horsetails dominating the landscape.

    Worker with a chainsaw in the hands of an ice hole
    Worker with a chainsaw in the hands of an ice hole

    However, it was not a homogenous world; distinct climate bands ensured a diversity of life adapted to the varied and often harsh Pangean conditions.

    Aerial view of the landscape of Iceland from the plane
    Aerial view of the landscape of Iceland from the plane

    High carbon dioxide levels, perhaps six times today’s, led to drought and wildfires, particularly ravaging the tropics.

    Detail shot of Boyabreen Glacier flowing down the rocky mountain. Norwegian landscape on a day of summer.
    Detail shot of Boyabreen Glacier flowing down the rocky mountain. Norwegian landscape on a day of summer.

    These areas were bereft of herbivorous dinosaurs, unable to sustain the lush vegetation needed for such large animals.

    Rural cemetery in winter in the evening harsh climate old trees metal fences
    Rural cemetery in winter in the evening harsh climate old trees metal fences

    Instead, smaller carnivorous species like Coelophysis and crocodile relatives thrived.

    Dramatic clouds coming to the valley of Thorsmork, southern Iceland. View from the road down off Valahnukur hill. Laugavegur trail.
    Dramatic clouds coming to the valley of Thorsmork, southern Iceland. View from the road down off Valahnukur hill. Laugavegur trail.

    This challenging environment may have, however, laid the foundation for the success of the dinosaurs, according to Whiteside.

    Dramatic clouds coming to the valley of Thorsmork, southern Iceland. View from Valahnukur hill. Springtime at the Laugavegur trail.
    Dramatic clouds coming to the valley of Thorsmork, southern Iceland. View from Valahnukur hill. Springtime at the Laugavegur trail.

    The ability of these creatures to adapt to cold climates, perhaps aided by primitive feathers, may have been pivotal in their eventual dominion after the Triassic mass extinction.

    Stormclouds with sun shining through them above dramatic mountain range of Norwegian fjord. Viewed from the shore with white Scandinavian house nearby
    Stormclouds with sun shining through them above dramatic mountain range of Norwegian fjord. Viewed from the shore with white Scandinavian house nearby

    These insights not only deepen our understanding of Earth’s history but also carry profound implications for today’s changing climate.

    Winter landscape during foggy and frosty cold weather sunrise in a winter wonderland, Estonia, Northern Europe.
    Winter landscape during foggy and frosty cold weather sunrise in a winter wonderland, Estonia, Northern Europe.

    Pangea’s harsh conditions and the life that endured offer a stark reminder of nature’s resilience and adaptability.

    Rural cemetery in winter in the evening harsh climate old trees metal fences
    Rural cemetery in winter in the evening harsh climate old trees metal fences

    Whiteside concludes that Pangea’s history serves as a “partial analogue to future climate change,” a natural experiment from which we can learn as our planet faces an uncertain climatic future.

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