What did the Earth look like during the age of dinosaurs? While these prehistoric creatures feel far removed from our modern world, the Earth they inhabited continues to occupy our imagination. Massive creatures roaming freely across an environment that looks nothing like ours feels like the stuff of fantasy, even though it's entirely real.
If you're unfamiliar with Earth's history, the time of the dinosaurs is known as the Mesozoic Era - a period of time millions of years before humans that's split into three main divisions: the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. While this era is best known for its prehistoric creatures, it was also a time of transition. The continents were moving into their current positions and many types of early organisms faced massive extinctions due to the resulting geographical changes. The Mesozoic Era marked a shift toward the current environment we're familiar with on Earth, but still featured vast differences in smells, tastes, and sounds that scientists are still trying to understand.
So what were the predominant noises of the Triassic Period? What did Earth look like during the Jurassic Period? What was the climate like in the Cretaceous Period? Keep reading to discover what the world smelled, tasted, and sounded like when the dinosaurs roamed.
Have you ever walked past a cow pasture? Were your nostrils met with a pleasant smell? The answer is undoubtedly a resounding no, and unfortunately for the dinosaurs, that's what most of the Earth may have smelled like during the Mesozoic Era.
Today, a portion of the global methane budget comes from livestock. Every time a cow burps or passes gas, they release a little methane into the atmosphere. While methane itself is odorless, the gas combined with a cow's digestive system creates a pretty rancid smell.
During the Mesozoic Era, sauropods housed microbial organisms that allowed them to break down their food. These organisms kept their digestive tracts running smoothly, but - like cows - they also produced methane. Scientists believe sauropods alone may have produced nearly as much methane as the modern total methane production we create from multiple sources today.
While the methane released by these creatures was an important factor in Mesozoic climates, it likely caused much of the planet to smell like a foul cow pasture.
If you've ever passed through a desert region, you're familiar with the dusty, earthy smell of the Triassic Period. At the beginning of the Mesozoic Era, all the continents were part of a single land mass called Pangaea.
This supercontinent was hot, dry, and covered in deserts. The polar ice caps of today did not exist. In fact, the world was almost entirely free of ice during this period.
Instead of the crisp smells of fresh snow or even the salty aroma of the ocean, dust and dirt were the primary odors of the Triassic Period.
While the Triassic Period was filled with the odors of dust and dirt, the Jurassic Period brought new smells to the planet. During the beginning of this period, Pangaea split in two due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The split created the North Atlantic Ocean, with Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. During this time, the appearance of seas between the continents led to more rainfall.
However, if you're imagining the crisp scent of new rain, think again. The planet was still very warm, but the increase in rain allowed fern jungles and other forests to sprout around the Earth. It's likely the planet smelled like a tropical jungle, filling the nose with rotten leaves and wet earth.
Given the warm climate, the air was likely thick and humid, making it difficult to breathe. Some parts of the planet filled with conifer trees, and would have exuded a fresh, woody scent.
During the Cretaceous Period, the continents separated even more, and began to resemble the shapes we know today. During this time, dinosaurs evolved further, diversifying from their Triassic ancestors.
In the Cretaceous Period, the first flowering plants appeared, as well as the first insects. Bees helped to increase the spread of flowering plants across the Earth. Adding to the forest-like smells of the Jurassic Period, the Cretaceous filled the planet with the scent of blooming flowers.
These flowery scents contributed to an environment totally unlike the dry desert that marked the beginning of the Mesozoic Era.