Rambling Book
Current Projects
Levenspiel Family




If you allow yourself to entertain the idea that a higher atmospheric pressure, say between 3 and 5 bar, could have existed in the time of the dinosaurs, it would resolve two of the anomalies that face us today, which are:

* how a dinosaur's heart could pump blood 7 or more meters upwards, without introducing the ideas of multiple hearts (as many as 8), giant hearts, and hearts located right under their chins, and

* how a giant flying quetzalcoatlus had the energy to stay airborne, something that biology and aerodynamics says is not possible in today's atmosphere.

All of this leads us to the next fascinating question - what was the atmospheric pressure before that time? Was it higher still? But this is another matter.


1. R. T. Bakker, Sci. Amer. , 223 , 58-78 (April 1975).
2. S. Wiesbaden, Science News , 130 , 103 (1996).
3. Wellnhofer, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs , pg 142, Crescent Books, Random House, New York, 1991.
4. D. A. Lawson, "Pterosaur from the Latest Cretaceous of West Texas: Discovery of the Largest Flying Creature," Science , 187 , 947-948 (1975).
5. J. M. Smith, Mathematical Ideas in Biology , Chap. 1, Cambridge Univ. Press, (1984).
6. K. Schmidt -Nielsen, Scaling: Why is Animal Size so Important? , Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984.
7. C. Renard, "Nouvelles Experiences sur la Resistance de l'Air," l'Aeronaute , 22 , 73, (1889); from [8].
8. T. von Karman, Aerodynamics, Selected Topics in Light of their Historical Development , McGraw Hill, 1963.
9. C. D. Bramwell and G. R. Whitfield, "Biomechanism of Pteranodon," Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. , B-267 , 503-581 (1974).
10. E. H. Hankin and D. H. Watson, "On the Flight of Pterodactyls," Aeronautical J. , 72 , 1-12 (1914); from [3].
11. O. Abel, "Geschichte und Methode der Rekonstruktion vorzeitlicher Wilbeltiere," G Fischer, Jena, 1925; from [3].
12. A. S. Romer, Vertebrate Paleontology , third ed., p. 146, U. Chicago Press, 1966.
13. H. Tennekes, The Simple Science of Flight-from Insects to Jumbo Jets , M.I.T. Press, 1996.
14. J. T. Pedley (G. I. Taylor Professor of Fluid Mechanics, Cambridge University), "Giraffes' Necks and Fluid Mechanics," broadcast October 25, 2003, on The Science Show on National Radio, U. K.
15. R. T. Bakker, Nature , 274 , 661-663 (1976).
16. R. S. Seymour and H. B. Lillywhite, "Heart, Neck Posture and Metabolic Intensity of Sauropod Dinosaurs," Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. , 267-B , 1883-1887 (2000).
17. K. A. Stevens and J. M. Parrish, "Neck, Posture and Feeding Habits of Two Jurassic Sauropod Dinosaurs," Science , 284 , 798-800 (1999).
18. R. S. Seymour et al, "Invited Review," Am. Physiol. J. , 265 , R715-R720 (1993).
19. D. S. J. Choy and P. Altman, The Lancet , 340 , 534-536 (1992).
20. H. S. Badeer and J. W. Hicks, "Circulation to the Head of Barosaurus Revisited," Comp. Biochem. Physiol. , A114 , 197 (1996).


The 20th century experienced a revolution in thought about our planet. In 1915, Alfred Wegener, a meteorologist proposed that the continental land masses drifted about the world, wrote a book presenting these ideas [1], and supplied evidence to back his proposal.

The scientific community reacted with: "A pipe dream . a fairy story." Geophysicists, almost to a man, completely opposed this theory [2].

Lawrence Bragg in England was intrigued with this theory. He had it translated from the German and presented it at the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. Bragg related that the geology members were "furious." Until then, he added, he had never known what it meant to "froth at the mouth." In fact, he said later, "Words cannot describe their utter scorn at anything as ridiculous as this theory" [3].

Here was Wegener, making an assertion for which his name would live in mockery for about 50 years. He was a target of scorn, and his theory provoked jibes, jeers, sneers, derision, raillery, burlesque, mockery, irony, satire and sarcasm, but it did not disappear [4].

After Wegener died in 1930, continental drift theory was all but forgotten , except that geology professors occasionally held it up to their students as a classical example of scientific blundering.

It is admirable how the persistent efforts of a handful of Wegener's converts were able to overcome the arrogance of the majority. It was not until the 1970s that the American geology establishment finally accepted this concept, and today we talk of continental drift as if we always believed it.

This present article is having a somewhat similar history. It asks us to consider that in the past the atmospheric pressure was much higher than it is now. In reviewing preliminary versions of this paper [5, 6] two authorities on geology and paleontology heaped ridicule on this proposal. Their review concluded with:

* "Large pterosaurs are said not to be able to fly in today's atmosphere for aerodynamic reasons; however paleontologists do not have a real problem with pterosaur flight."
* "Our fields of paleontology-geology are now and then pervaded from the so-called exact 'sciences' by ideas which have no basis at all ."
* "Physics has delayed our science for long periods over the last 150 years at least, it is very counterproductive."

This paper in its various versions has had a battered history. Here are the journals that were sent this paper and either returned it unread or just discarded it. Only one journal had the courtesy to review it before rejecting it.

1. Science , 1992
2. Nature , 1992
3. American Scientist , 1992
4. Science , 1993
5. Nature , 1993
6. Geology , 1993
7. ChemTech , 1993
8. American Scientist , 1994
9. American Scientist , 1996
10. The Sciences , 1996
11. Endeavor , 1996
12. Chemical Engineering Education , 1996
13. Chemical Engineering Science , 1998
14. Science , 1998
15. PUBLISHED in Chemical Innovation, May 2000
16. PUBLISHED in Chemical Innovation, December 2000
17. Nature, 2004
18. American Scientist, 2004
19. The Lancet, 2004
20. Geology, 2005
21. This paper was finally PUBLISHED: "Atmospheric Pressure at the Time of Dinosaurs" Chemical Industry and Chemical Engineering Quarterly, 12 No. 2 116-122, 2006

It seems that this paper is too radical for today's journals. In the middle of the 1800 the Royal Society came across a similar situation. They turned down a paper which developed the important ideal gas law but they kept the original in their archive where Lord Rayleigh discovered it 50 years later. He then felt that he had to comment on this sad situation, so he wrote:

"Highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matter of uncertain value." Lord Rayleigh, Proc. Royal Soc. , A183 1 (1892).

So here I present this "ridiculous" idea about our ancient atmosphere on internet. I think I have tried journals long enough to be rewarded with reviews such as "this is a waste of paper."

We should realize that any idea about our distant past is always accompanied by uncertainty; however, these ideas suggest new questions which add to the idea or help to destroy it. One should question and explore new ideas and not dismiss them offhand with written reviews that say "We paleontologists don't believe in aerodynamic theory," "physics has delayed our field for over 150 years," and "this is a waste of paper" as was done with this paper.

Afterthought References

1. A. Wegener, The Origins of Continents and Oceans , translated from the 4th ed. by J. Biram; Dover, New York, 1966.
2. G. R. Stevens, New Zealand Adrift , Wellington, N. Z., 1980.
3. W. Sullivan, Continents in Motion , McGraw-Hill, New York. 1974.
4. J. McPhee, Annals of the Former World , Farrer, Straus and Giroux, 1981.
5. O. Levenspiel, T. J. Fitzgerald, and D. Pettit, "Earth's Early Atmosphere," Chemical Innovation , May 2000.
6. O. Levenspiel, T. J. Fitzgerald and D. Pettit, "Earth's Atmosphere before Dinosaurs," Chemical Innovation , Dec 2000.

back to the beginning ...
back to page 2 of 4
back to page 3 of 4