If we startled you with that atavistic roar please do not be alarmed. It is merely the distant echo rather than present threat of stepping out your door straight into the jaws of an enormous predator. According to new research, the Sahara wins the prize for most dangerous place ever on Earth. Luckily it filed its entry 100 million years ago. When the Earth was a lot warmer with far more atmospheric CO2 the presently barren northern part of Africa was “a vast river system, filled with many different species of aquatic and terrestrial animals” including many of the most fearsome apex predators ever to have lived. Seems a warmer planet is friendly to life… if not to longevity.
According to the scientists who did the first major work on Cretaceous Saharan fossils in nearly a century, in the Kem Kem rock formations near the Moroccan-Algerian border, if you had travelled back in time to that period there would have been a very real prospect of the sudden extinction of your mass at the claws of “three of the largest predatory dinosaurs ever known” including “the sabre-toothed Carcharodontosaurus” and Deltadromeus, which would then have tussled for your carcass with a host of pterosaurs and “crocodile-like hunters”. (H/t to David Middleton who, in noting this alarming scenario, tips his own hat to the possibly adequate survival prep of Bert and Heather Gummer from Tremors. For the rest of us, running would not have been a plan, and nor would anything else.)
These apex predators feasted on a lavish array of prey including giant coelacanths and lungfish, as did what one co-author called “an enormous freshwater saw shark called Onchopristis with the most fearsome of rostral teeth, they are like barbed daggers, but beautifully shiny.” There is a downside to flourishing ecosystems, like vast quantities of “fearsome rostral teeth” clacking away as they approach you.
Newsweek also reported this story, about the original paper in the journal ZooKeys. And who could resist it? Dinosaurs are cool, at a distance. Up close, not so cool. And speaking of not cool, Newsweek also noted that “While this is a dry, arid region today, 100 million years ago when these creatures lived, the area was home to a vast river system with a tropical climate and an abundance of aquatic and terrestrial animals, according to the researchers. Many of these predators likely relied on the numerous fish that filled the waters of this river system.” But it too resisted the obvious conclusion that high levels of CO2 in Earth’s history seem surprisingly correlated with abundant life.
It is so partly because it’s wetter as a result of being warmer. But not deluge extinction drought-and-flood Al Gore disaster wetter. Just full of the things living beings need to flourish, like moisture and the CO2 that feeds the plants that feed the animals that feed the animals going RAHR so spectacularly if at a mercifully safe chronological distance.