P. Edronkin

The Central American Cork That Sealed The Fate Of Earth's Climate



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Small things can indeed become big problems, especially if they alter the climate.

We think today that humanity is changing the shape of the planet along with its climate, and that's being viewed overwhelmingly in a negative way; but in the past, things were changed only by nature and had also deep impact in the world, no matter whether these were negative or positive developments. And one of such developments was the growth of the Central American isthmus a few million years ago. This event joined the north and the south of the American continent (what some incorrectly call collectively "The Americas").

This started with volcanic eruptions and the growth of land around the craters by accumulation of lava as well as sediments; eventually, a barrier joining the different active craters was formed, and that is today Central America. The last part of the territory to grow from the water was apparently that of northern Panama and Nicaragua, and once that last doorway was closed, great changes took place, beginning with sea currents and possibly, the movements of marine species that suddenly found themselves cut out of their normal routes to feed breed, etc.

As of what happened out of the water, animal and vegetal species began to meddle from south to north and vice versa, and as they mixed, the balance of different ecosystems began to erode. This was felt noticeably in South America, a vast region that, like Australia, stayed completely in isolation for tens of millions of years and thus evolved indigenous species that in the end proved no match for some of the predators coming from the north. Numerous groups vanished from existence in this way.

Palaeontology and geology show us with this example how little things, a few square kilometres of land in this case, can provoke great changes in the whole world. After all, this was caused by a few, rather modest volcanoes and dust piling-up as marine sediments. Thus, we should never underestimate the effect that little things - good or bad - have on the evolution of our planetary climate.




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