Arctic ice and the ecological rise of the dinosaurs

Paul Olsen, Jingeng Sha, Yanan Fang, Clara Chang, Jessica H. Whiteside, Sean Kinney, Hans Dieter Sues, Dennis Kent, Morgan Schaller, Vivi Vajda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Abundant lake ice-rafted debris in Late Triassic and earliest Jurassic strata of the Junggar Basin of northwestern China (paleolatitude ~71°N) indicates that freezing winter temperatures typified the forested Arctic, despite a persistence of extremely high levels of atmospheric Pco2 (partial pressure of CO2). Phylogenetic bracket analysis shows that non-avian dinosaurs were primitively insulated, enabling them to access rich deciduous and evergreen Arctic vegetation, even under freezing winter conditions. Transient but intense volcanic winters associated with massive eruptions and lowered light levels led to the end-Triassic mass extinction (201.6 Ma) on land, decimating all medium- to large-sized nondinosaurian, noninsulated continental reptiles. In contrast, insulated dinosaurs were already well adapted to cold temperatures, and not only survived but also underwent a rapid adaptive radiation and ecological expansion in the Jurassic, taking over regions formerly dominated by large noninsulated reptiles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)eabo6342
JournalScience Advances
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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