Thursday, April 19, 2007

Palms in the Catskills?

No, this isn't a global warming alarm. It seems that there were palm-like trees growing in that region in the Middle Devonian, some 380 million years ago (see here).

Update: Geology maven Twiffer points out that, in the Middle Devonian, the bit of tectonic plate on which the Catskills now sit was at a latitude comparable to the present-day Caribbean, so the presence of palms, or something possibly ancestral to them, is not surprising.

Although I'm confident that Twiffer is right about this, statements about ancient geological dispositions bring to mind a quotation from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, which he presented as a critique of scientific speculation, but is actually an attack on simple-minded extrapolation:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod.