Geologic time and continents, climates, etc. (dict.com)
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The Proterozoic is a geological eon representing a period before the first abundant complex life on Earth.
The Proterozoic Eon extended from 2500 Ma to 542.0 ± 1.0 Ma (million years ago). The Proterozoic is the most recent part of the old, informally named ‘Precambrian’ time.
The Proterozoic consists of 3 geologic eras, from oldest to youngest:
The well-identified events were:
The transition to an oxygenated atmosphere during the Mesoproterozoic.
Several glaciations, including the hypothesized Snowball Earth during the Cryogenian period in the late Neoproterozoic. The Ediacaran Period (635 to 542 Ma) which is characterized by the evolution of abundant soft-bodied multicellular organisms.
The Proterozoic record
The geologic record of the Proterozoic is much better than that for the preceding Archean. In contrast to the deep-water deposits of the Archean, the Proterozoic features many strata that were laid down in extensive shallow epicontinental seas; furthermore, many of these rocks are less metamorphosed than Archean-age ones, and plenty are unaltered. Study of these rocks show that the eon featured massive, rapid continental accretion (unique to the Proterozoic), supercontinent cycles, and wholly-modern orogenic activity. The first known glaciations occurred during the Proterozoic, one began shortly after the beginning of the eon, while there were at least four during the Neoproterozoic, climaxing with the Snowball Earth of the Varangian glaciation.
The build-up of oxygen
One of the most important events of the Proterozoic was the gathering up of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. Though oxygen was undoubtedly released by photosynthesis well back in Archean times, it could not build up to any significant degree until chemical sinks — unoxidized sulfur and iron — had been filled; until roughly 2.3 billion years ago, oxygen was probably only 1% to 2% of its current level. Banded
iron formations, which provide most of the world's iron ore, were also a prominent chemical sink; most accumulation ceased after 1.9 billion years ago, either due to an increase in oxygen or a more thorough mixing of the oceanic water column.
Red beds, which are colored by hematite, indicate an increase in atmospheric oxygen after 2 billion years ago; they are not found in older rocks. The oxygen build-up was probably due to two factors: a filling of the chemical sinks, and an increase in carbon burial, which sequestered organic compounds that would have otherwise been oxidized by the atmosphere.
The first advanced single-celled and multi-cellular life roughly coincides with the oxygen accumulation; this may have been due to an increase in the oxidized nitrates that eukaryotes use, as opposed to cyanobacteria. It was also during the Proterozoic that the first symbiotic relationships between mitochondria (for nearly all eukaryotes) and chloroplasts (for plants and some protists only) and their hosts evolved. The blossoming of eukaryotes such as acritarchs did not preclude the expansion of cyanobacteria; in fact, stromatolites reached their greatest abundance and diversity during the Proterozoic, peaking roughly 1.2 billion years ago.
Classically, the boundary between the Proterozoic and the Phanerozoic eons was set at the base of the Cambrian period when the first fossils of animals known as trilobites and archeocyathids appeared. In the second half of the 20th century, a number of fossil forms have been found in Proterozoic rocks, but the upper boundary of the Proterozoic has remained fixed at the base of the Cambrian, which is currently placed at 542 Ma.
The Paleoproterozoic (also spelled Palaeoproterozoic) is the first of the three sub-divisions (eras) of the Proterozoic occurring between 2500 Ma and 1600 Ma (million years ago). This is when the continents first stabilized. This is also when Cyanobacteria evolved, a type of bacteria which uses the biochemical process of photosynthesis to produce energy and oxygen. Before the significant increase in atmospheric oxygen almost all life that existed was anaerobic, that is, the metabolism of life depended on a form of cellular respiration that did not require oxygen. Free oxygen in large amounts is poisonous to most anaerobic bacteria, and at this time most life on Earth vanished. The only life that remained was either resistant to the oxidizing and poisonous effects of oxygen, or spent its life-cycle in an oxygen-free environment. This main event is called the Oxygen Catastrophe. Also the first Grypania fossils and the first Eukaryotes appeared during this time.
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The Mesoproterozoic Era is a geologic era that occurred between 1600 Ma and 1000 Ma (million years ago). The major events of this era are the formation of the Rodinia supercontinent, the breakup of the Columbia supercontinent, and the evolution of sexual reproduction
Geologically, the Neoproterozoic is thought to comprise a time of complex continental motion as a supercontinent called Rodinia broke up into perhaps as many as eight pieces. Possibly as a consequence of continental rifting, several massive worldwide glaciations occurred during the Era including the Sturtian and Marinoan glaciations, the most severe the Earth has ever known. These are believed to have been so severe as to bring icecaps to the equator, leading to a state known as the "Snowball Earth".
The idea of the Neoproterozoic Era came on the scene relatively recently — after about 1960. Nineteenth century paleontologists set the start of multicelled life at the first appearance of hard-shelled animals called trilobites and archeocyathids. This set the beginning of the Cambrian period. In the early 20th century, paleontologists started finding fossils of multicellular animals that predated the Cambrian boundary. A complex fauna was found in South West Africa in the 1920s but was misdated. Another was found in South Australia in the 1940s but was not thoroughly examined until the late 1950s. Other possible early fossils were found in Russia, England, Canada, and elsewhere (see Ediacaran biota). Some were determined to be pseudofossils, but others were revealed to be members of rather complex biotas
that are still poorly understood. At least 25 regions worldwide yielded metazoan fossils prior to the classical Cambrian boundary.
A few of the early animals appear possibly to be ancestors of modern animals. Most fall into ambiguous groups of frond-like animals(?); discoids that might be holdfasts for stalked animals(?) ("medusoids"); mattress-like forms; small calcaerous tubes; and armored animals of unknown provenance. These were most commonly known as Vendian biota until the formal naming of the Period, and are currently known as Ediacaran biota. Most were soft bodied. The relationships, if any, to modern forms are obscure. Some paleontologists relate many or most of these forms to modern animals. Others acknowledge a few possible or even likely relationships but feel that most of the Ediacaran forms are representatives of (an)
unknown animal type(s).
The nomenclature for the terminal period of the Neoproterozoic has been unstable. Russian geologists referred to the last period of the Neoproterozoic as the Vendian, and the Chinese called it the Sinian, and most Australians and North Americans used the name Ediacaran. However, in 2004, the International Union of Geological Sciences ratified the Ediacaran age to be a geological age of the Neoproterozoic, ranging from 630 +5/-30 to 542 +/- 0.3 million years ago. The Ediacaran boundaries are the only Precambrian boundaries defined by biologic Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points, rather than the absolute Global Standard Stratigraphic Ages.
Cambrian continents are thought to have resulted from the breakup of a Neoproterozoic supercontinent called Pannotia. The waters of the Cambrian period appear to have been widespread and shallow. Gondwana remained the largest supercontinent after the breakup of Pannotia. It is thought that Cambrian climates were significantly warmer than those of preceding times that experienced extensive
ice ages discussed as the Varanger glaciation. Also there was no glaciation at the poles. Continental drift rates in the Cambrian may have been anomalously high. Laurentia, Baltica and Siberia remained independent continents since the break-up of the supercontinent of Pannotia. Gondwana started to drift towards the South Pole. Panthalassa covered most of the southern hemisphere, and minor oceans
included the Proto-Tethys Ocean, Iapetus Ocean, and Khanty Ocean, all of which expanded by this time.
Sea levels were high during the Ordovician; in fact during the Tremadocian, marine transgressions worldwide were the greatest for which evidence is preserved in the rocks. During the Ordovician, the southern continents were collected into a single continent called Gondwana. Gondwana started the period in equatorial latitudes and, as the period progressed, drifted toward the South Pole. Early in the Ordovician, the continents Laurentia, Siberia, and Baltica were still independent continents (since the break-up of the supercontinent Pannotia earlier), but Baltica began to move towards Laurentia later in the period, causing the Iapetus Ocean to shrink between them. Also, Avalonia broke free from Gondwana and began to head north towards Laurentia. Rheic Ocean was formed as a result of this.
Ordovician rocks are chiefly sedimentary. Because of the restricted area and low elevation of solid land, which set limits to erosion, marine sediments that make up a large part of the Ordovician system consist chiefly of limestone. Shale and sandstone are less conspicuous. A major mountain-building episode was the Taconic orogeny that was well under way in Cambrian times. By the end of the period, Gondwana had neared or approached the pole and was largely glaciated.
The Ordovician was a time of calcite sea geochemistry in which low-magnesium calcite was the primary inorganic marine precipitate of calcium carbonate. Carbonate hardgrounds were thus very common, along with calcitic ooids, calcitic cements, and invertebrate faunas with dominantly calcitic skeletons
(Stanley and Hardie, 1998, 1999).
During the Silurian, Gondwana continued a slow southward drift to high southern latitudes, but there is evidence that the Silurian icecaps were less extensive than those of the late Ordovician glaciation. The melting of icecaps and glaciers contributed to a rise in sea level, recognizable from the fact that Silurian
sediments overlie eroded Ordovician sediments, forming an unconformity. Other cratons and continent fragments drifted together near the equator, starting the formation of a second supercontinent known as Euramerica. When the proto-Europe collided with North America, the collision folded coastal sediments that had
been accumulating since the Cambrian off the east coast of North America and the west coast of Europe. This event is the Caledonian orogeny, a spate of mountain building that stretched from New York State through conjoined Europe and Greenland to Norway. At the end of the Silurian, sea levels dropped again, leaving telltale basins of evaporites in a basin extending from Michigan to West Virginia, and the new mountain ranges were rapidly eroded. The Teays River, flowing into the shallow
mid-continental sea, eroded Ordovician strata, leaving traces in the Silurian strata of northern Ohio and Indiana. The vast ocean of Panthalassa covered most of the northern hemisphere. Other minor oceans include, Proto-Tethys, Paleo-Tethys, Rheic Ocean, a seaway of Iapetus Ocean (now in between Avalonia and aurentia), and newly formed Ural Ocean.
During this period, the Earth entered a long warm greenhouse phase, and warm shallow seas covered much of the equatorial land masses. Early in the Silurian, glaciers retreated back into the South Pole until they almost disappeared in the middle of Silurian. The period witnessed a relative stabilization of the Earth's general climate, ending the previous pattern of erratic climatic fluctuations. Layers of broken shells (called coquina) provide strong evidence of a climate dominated by violent storms generated then as now by warm sea surfaces. Later in the Silurian, the climate cooled slightly, but in the Silurian-Devonian boundary, the climate became warmer.
The Devonian period was a time of great tectonic activity, as Laurasia and Gondwanaland drew closer together. The continent Euramerica (or Laurussia) was created in the early Devonian by the collision of Laurentia and Baltica, which rotated into the natural dry zone along the Tropic of Capricorn, which is formed as
much in Paleozoic times as nowadays by the convergence of two great airmasses, the Hadley cell and the Ferrel cell. In these near-deserts, the Old Red Sandstone sedimentary beds formed, made red by the oxidized iron (hematite) characteristic of drought conditions.
Near the equator, Pangaea began to consolidate from the plates containing North America and Europe, further raising the northern Appalachian Mountains and forming the Caledonian Mountains in Great Britain and Scandinavia. The west coast of Devonian North America, by contrast, was a passive margin with deep silty embayments, river deltas and estuaries, in today's Idaho and Nevada; an approaching volcanic island arc reached the steep slope of the continental shelf in Late Devonian times and began to uplift deep water deposits, a collision that was the prelude to the mountain-building episode of Mississippian times called the Antler orogeny
The southern continents remained tied together in the supercontinent of Gondwana. The remainder of modern Eurasia lay in the Northern Hemisphere. Sea levels were high worldwide, and much of the land lay submerged under shallow seas, where tropical reef organisms lived. The deep, enormous Panthalassa (the "universal ocean") covered the rest of the planet. Other minor oceans were Paleo-Tethys, Proto-Tethys, Rheic Ocean, and Ural Ocean (which was closed during the collision with Siberia and Baltica). Devonian rocks are oil and gas producers in some areas.
A global drop in sea level at the end of the Devonian reversed early in the Carboniferous; this created the widespread epicontinental seas and carbonate deposition of the Mississippian. There was also a drop in south polar temperatures; southern Gondwanaland was glaciated throughout the period, though it is uncertain if the ice sheets were a holdover from the Devonian or not. These conditions apparently had little effect in the deep tropics, where lush coal swamps flourished within 30 degrees of the northernmost glaciers.
A mid-Carboniferous drop in sea-level precipitated a major marine extinction, one that hit crinoids and ammonites especially hard. This sea-level drop and the associated unconformity in North America separate the Mississippian period from the Pennsylvanian period.
The Carboniferous was a time of active mountain-building, as the supercontinent Pangaea came together. The southern continents remained tied together in the supercontinent Gondwana, which collided with North America-Europe (Laurussia) along the present line of eastern North America. This continental collision resulted in the Hercynian orogeny in Europe, and the Alleghenian orogeny in North America; it
also extended the newly-uplifted Appalachians southwestward as the Ouachita Mountains. In the same time frame, much of present eastern Eurasian plate welded itself to Europe along the line of the Ural mountains. Most of the Mesozoic supercontinent of Pangea was now assembled, although North China (which would collide in the Latest Carboniferous), and South China continents were still separated from Laurasia. The Late Carboniferous Pangaea was shaped like an "O".
There were two major oceans in the Carboniferous—Panthalassa and Paleo-Tethys, which was inside the "O" in the Carboniferous Pangaea. Other minor oceans were shrinking and eventually closed - Rheic Ocean (closed by the assembly of South and North America), the small, shallow Ural Ocean (which was closed by the collision of Baltica and Siberia continents, creating the Ural Mountains) and Proto-Tethys
Ocean (closed by North China collision with Siberia/Kazakhstania.
The early part of the Carboniferous was mostly warm; in the later part of the Carboniferous, the climate cooled. Glaciations in Gondwana, triggered by Gondwana's southward movement, continued into the Permian and because of the lack of clear markers and breaks, the deposits of this glacial period are often referred to as Permo-Carboniferous in age.
Historical Geology of the Period
The Lower Permian
During the Permian period, changes in the earth's surface that had begun in the preceding Carboniferous period reached a climax. At the close of the Carboniferous, large areas of E North America were dry land. In the Lower Permian, sandy shales, sandstones, and thin limestones of the Dunkard formation (formerly called the Upper Barren measures) were deposited in the remaining submerged areas of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, but the continued rising of the land soon put an end to deposition. The Dunkard is the last Paleozoic formation of the E United States. More extensive deposits were formed in the West. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska were covered by an arm of the sea or possibly by one or more salt lakes or lagoons, now represented by masses of salt or gypsum in layers separated and overlaid by red beds. There are important Permian salt mines at Hutchinson and Lyons in Kansas and gypsum mines in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. The longest marine submergence of the Lower Permian in North America was in W Texas and SE New Mexico, where there is a system of marine limestones and sandstones 4,000 to 6,000 ft (1,200-1,800 m) thick. The Cordilleran region was also submerged; here marine beds are more common toward the west, and land sediments, especially red beds, toward the east. The red beds are generally considered to be indicative of increasingly arid conditions in Permian times. n Europe, the Lower Permian, or Rotliegendes [red layers], was marked principally by erosion from the Paleozoic Alps of the Carboniferous into the low-lying land to the north; the formations are chiefly shale
and sandstone, with some conglomerate and breccia. Red is a prominent color for the beds. The Pangaea supercontinent formed from an aggregation of all continents at this time.The Permian and late Carboniferous of the Southern Hemisphere were radically different from those of the Northern Hemisphere. Australia, S Africa, and South America experienced a series of glacial periods, as is shown by the presence of tillite and of conspicuous striations of the underlying rock formations. This
condition prevailed also in India. Paleozoic glaciation in North America is suggested by the Squantum tillite near Boston, Mass. This glaciation and the aridity of which the red beds seem to be the result are the two most strongly marked characteristics of the Permian period.
The Upper Permian
In the Upper Permian practically all of North America was above sea level, and the continent was larger than at present. Toward the close of the Upper Permian the greatest earth disturbance of the Paleozoic era thrust up the Appalachian Mts. In Europe, the Upper Permian was a period of more extensive marine invasion; the Zechstein formation is predominantly limestone, though it includes rich deposits of copper, salt, gypsum, and potash. The Upper Permian beds of Germany were long the chief source of the world's potash.
During the Permian, all the Earth's major land masses except portions of East Asia were collected into a single supercontinent known as Pangaea. Pangaea straddled the equator and extended toward the poles, with a corresponding effect on ocean currents in the single great ocean ("Panthalassa", the "universal sea"), and the Paleo-Tethys Ocean, a large ocean that was between Asia and Gondwana. The Cimmeria continent rifted away from Gondwana and drifted north to Laurasia, causing the Paleo-Tethys to shrink. A new ocean was growing on its southern end, the Tethys Ocean, an ocean that would dominate much of the Mesozoic Era. Large continental landmasses create climates with extreme variations of heat and cold ("continental climate") and monsoon conditions with highly seasonal rainfall patterns. Deserts seem to have been widespread on Pangaea. Such dry conditions favored gymnosperms, plants with seeds
enclosed in a protective cover, over plants such as ferns that disperse spores. The first modern trees (conifers, ginkgos and cycads) appeared in the Permian.
Three general areas are especially noted for their Permian deposits- the Ural Mountains (where Perm itself is located), China, and the southwest of North America, where the Permian Basin in the U.S. state of Texas is so named because it has one of the thickest deposits of Permian rocks in the world.
As the Permian opened, the Earth was still in the grip of an ice age, so the polar regions were covered with deep layers of ice. Glaciers continued to cover much of Gondwanaland, as they had during the late Carboniferous . At the same time the tropics were covered in swampy forests. Towards the middle of the period the climate became warmer and milder, the glaciers receded, and the continental interiors became drier. Much of the interior of Pangaea was probably arid, with great seasonal
fluctuations (wet and dry seasons), because of the lack of the moderating effect of nearby bodies of water. This drying tendency continued through to the late Permian, along with alternating warming and cooling periods.
During the Triassic, almost all the Earth's land mass was concentrated into a single supercontinent centered more or less on the equator, called Pangaea ("all the land"). This took the form of a giant "Pac-Man" with an east-facing "mouth" constituting the Tethys sea, a vast gulf that opened farther westward in the mid-Triassic, at the expense of the shrinking Paleo-Tethys Ocean, an ocean that existed
during the Paleozoic. The remainder was the world-ocean known as Panthalassa ("all the sea"). All the deep-ocean sediments laid down during the Triassic have disappeared through subduction of oceanic plates; thus, very little is known of the Triassic open ocean. The supercontinent Pangaea was rifting during the Triassic—especially late in the period—but had not yet separated. The first nonmarine sediments in the rift that marks the initial break-up of Pangea—which separated New Jersey from Morocco—are of Late Triassic age; in the U.S., these thick sediments
comprise the Newark Group. Because of the limited shoreline of one super-continental mass, Triassic marine deposits are globally relatively rare, despite their prominence in Western Europe, where the Triassic was first studied. In North America, for example, marine deposits are limited to a few exposures in the west. Thus Triassic stratigraphy is mostly based on organisms living in lagoons and hypersaline environments, such as Estheria crustaceans.
The Triassic climate was generally hot and dry, forming typical red bed sandstones and evaporites. There is no evidence of glaciation at or near either pole; in fact, the polar regions were apparently moist and temperate, a climate suitable for reptile-like creatures. Pangaea's large size limited the moderating effect of the global ocean; its continental climate was highly seasonal, with very hot summers and cold winters. It probably had strong, cross-equatorial monsoons.
During the early Jurassic, the supercontinent Pangaea broke up into the northern supercontinent Laurasia and the southern supercontinent Gondwana; the Gulf of Mexico opened in the new rift between North America and what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The Jurassic North Atlantic Ocean was relatively narrow, while the South Atlantic did not open until the following Cretaceous Period, when Gondwana itself
rifted apart. The Tethys Sea closed, and the Neotethys basin appeared. Climates were warm, with no evidence of glaciation. As in the Triassic, there was apparently no land near either pole, and no extensive ice caps existed.
The Jurassic geological record is good in western Europe, where extensive marine sequences indicate a time when much of the continent was submerged under shallow tropical seas; famous locales include the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and the renowned late Jurassic lagerstätten of Holzmaden and Solnhofen. In contrast, the North American Jurassic record is the poorest of the Mesozoic, with few outcrops at the surface. Though the epicontinental Sundance Sea left marine deposits in parts of the northern plains of the United States and Canada during the late Jurassic, most exposed sediments from this period are continental, such as the alluvial deposits of the Morrison Formation. The Jurassic was a time of calcite sea geochemistry in which low-magnesium calcite was the primary inorganic marine precipitate of calcium carbonate. Carbonate hardgrounds were thus very common, along with calcitic ooids, calcitic cements, and invertebrate faunas with dominantly calcitic skeletons (Stanley and Hardie, 1998, 1999).
The first of several massive batholiths were emplaced in the northern Cordillera beginning in the mid-Jurassic, marking the Nevadan orogeny. Important Jurassic exposures are also found in Russia, India, South America, Japan, Australasia, and the United Kingdom.
Historical Geology of the Period
The Lower Cretaceous Period
At the beginning of the Lower Cretaceous in North America, the Mexican Sea of the late Jurassic period spread over Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and parts of Arizona, Kansas, and Colorado. Deposits from this inland sea, known as the Comanchean Sea, were chiefly limestone (up to 1,500 ft/457 m thick in Texas) but some continental sediments (i.e., sandstone, shale, and conglomerate) mark the reemergence of land, which brought the Lower Cretaceous to a close. The Comanchean Sea was probably separated by a land barrier from contemporaneous seas in the California areas, where 26,000 ft (7,925 m) of Shastan shales, with sandstone and thin limestone, were laid down. The sediments were derived by rapid erosion from the recently elevated Sierra Nevada and Klamath mts. In Montana,Alberta, and British Columbia the Kootenai deposits of sandstone and sandy shale, which contain workable deposits of good coal, were formed; along the Atlantic coast the unconsolidated sandy clay, gravel, and sand of the Potomac series were deposited.
The Lower Cretaceous opened in NW Europe with the deposition of a continental and freshwater formation, the Wealden sand and clay, best displayed in England. The sea, meanwhile, expanded from the Mediterranean, finally overlaying successive Wealden strata with limestone. There was at the same time an extensive sea in N Europe. At the close of the Lower Cretaceous, there was some recession of the seas; by the Upper Cretaceous, the great transgression of seas submerged lands that had been open since the Paleozoic.
The Upper Cretaceous Period
The Upper Cretaceous opened in W North America with the deposition of continental sands (now the Dakota sandstone), which, however, were covered by the ensuing rise of the Colorado Sea. The Colorado Sea was the greatest of the North American Mesozoic seas and extended all the way from Mexico up into the Arctic, covering most of central North America. The Colorado deposits were composed chiefly of shales, limestone, and some chalk in Kansas and South Dakota. Slight shifting of the sea was followed by the deposition of the Montana shale and sandstone and then by withdrawal of the sea. Near the end of the Upper Cretaceous, conditions in the west were similar to those of the Carboniferous period in other regions; swamps and bogs were formed that later became valuable deposits of coal.
At the close of the Cretaceous the Laramide revolution occurred—at least two different epochs of mountain building and one of relative quiet. In this disturbance the Rockies and the E Andes were first elevated, and there were extensive flows of lava. The Appalachians, which had been reduced almost to base level by erosion, were rejuvenated, and the seas retreated from all parts of the continent. The intermittent character of the Laramide disturbance makes difficult the demarcation of the Mesozoic and the succeeding Cenozoic era.
The striking feature of the European Upper Cretaceous are great chalk deposits from small carbonate-bearing marine algae and calcareous fauna, now exposed in the cliffs of the English Channel. In India the late Upper Cretaceous was marked by an overflow of lava in the Deccan plateau. The area covered by igneous rocks dating from this period now comprises over 200,000 sq mi (518,000 sq km) and was formerly much larger, having been reduced by erosion. Near Mumbai the formation is 10,000 ft (3,000 m) thick.
Movement of the Continents
During the Cretaceous period the massive continents of Gondwanaland and Laurasia continued to separate. South America and Africa had separated, with the consequent widening of the S Atlantic. The N Atlantic continued to expand, although it appears that Europe, Greenland, and North America were still connected. Madagascar had separated from Africa, while India was still drifting northward toward Asia. The Tethys Sea was disappearing as Africa moved north toward Eurasia. Antarctica and Australia had yet to separate.
During the Cretaceous, the late Paleozoic - early Mesozoic supercontinent of Pangaea completed its breakup into present day continents, although their positions were substantially different at the time. As the Atlantic Ocean widened, the convergent-margin orogenies that had begun during the Jurassic continued in the North American Cordillera, as the Nevadan orogeny was followed by the Sevier and Laramide orogenies.
Though Gondwana was still intact in the beginning of the Cretaceous, it broke up as South America, Antarctica and Australia rifted away from Africa (though India and Madagascar remained attached to each other); thus, the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans were newly formed. Such active rifting lifted great undersea mountain chains along the welts, raising eustatic sea levels worldwide. To the north of Africa the Tethys Sea continued to narrow. Broad shallow seas advanced across central North America (the Western Interior Seaway) and Europe, then receded late in the period, leaving thick marine deposits sandwiched between coal beds. At the peak of the Cretaceous transgression, one-third of Earth's present land area was submerged.
The Cretaceous is justly famous for its chalk; indeed, more chalk formed in the Cretaceous than in any other period in the Phanerozoic. Mid-ocean ridge activity--or rather, the circulation of seawater through the enlarged ridges--enriched the oceans in calcium; this made the oceans more saturated, as well as increased the bioavailability of the element for calcareous nanoplankton. These widespread carbonates and other sedimentary deposits make the Cretaceous rock record especially fine. Famous formations from North America include the rich marine fossils of Kansas's Smoky Hill Chalk Member and the terrestrial fauna of the late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation. Other important Cretaceous exposures occur in Europe and China. In the area that is now India, massive lava beds called the Deccan Traps
were erupted in the very late Cretaceous and early Paleocene.
The Berrasian epoch showed a cooling trend that had been seen in the last epoch of the Jurassic. There is evidence that snowfalls were common in the higher latitudes and the tropics became wetter than during the Triassic and Jurassic. Glaciation was however restricted to alpine glaciers on some high-latitude mountains, though seasonal snow may have existed further south. After the end of the Berrasian, however, temperatures increased again, and these conditions were almost constant until the end of the period. This trend was due to intense volcanic activity which
produced large quantities of carbon dioxide. The development of a number of mantle plumes across the widening mid-ocean ridges further pushed sea levels up, so that large areas of the continental crust were covered with shallow seas. The Tethys Sea connected the tropical oceans east to west also helped warm the global climate. Warm-adapted plant fossils are known from localities as far north as Alaska and Greenland, while dinosaur fossils have been found within 15 degrees of the Cretaceous south pole. A very gentle temperature gradient from the equator to the poles meant weaker global winds, contributing to less upwelling and more stagnant oceans than today. This evidenced by widespread black shale deposition and frequent anoxic events. Sediment cores show that tropical sea surface temperatures may have briefly been as warm as 42 °C (107 °F), 17 °C (31 °F) warmer than at present, and that they averaged around 37 °C. Meanwhile deep ocean temperatures were as much as
15 to 20 °C (27 to 36 °F) higher than today's.,
The Paleogene (alternatively Palaeogene) period is a unit of geologic time that began 65.5 ± 0.3 and ended 23.03 ± 0.05 million years ago and comprises the first part of the Cenozoic era. Lasting 42 million years, the Paleogene is most notable as being the time in which mammals evolved from relatively small, simple forms into a plethora of diverse animals in the wake of the mass extinction that ended the
preceding Cretaceous Period. Some of these mammals would evolve into large forms that would dominate the land, while others would become capable of living in marine, specialized terrestrial and even airborne environments. Birds also evolved considerably during this period changing into roughly-modern forms. Most other branches of life on earth remained relatively unchanged in comparison to birds and
mammals during this period. Some continental motion took place. Climates cooled somewhat over the duration of the Paleogene and inland seas retreated from North America early in the Period. This period consists of the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene Epochs. The end of the Paleocene (55.5/54.8 Ma) was marked by one of the most significant periods of global change during the Cenozoic, a sudden global change, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which upset oceanic and atmospheric
circulation and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera and on land, a major turnover in mammals.The Paleogene follows the Cretaceous Period and is followed by the Miocene Epoch of the Neogene Period. The terms 'Paleogene System' (formal) and 'lower Tertiary System' (informal) are applied to the rocks deposited during the 'Paleogene Period'. The somewhat confusing terminology seems to be due to attempts to deal with the comparatively fine subdivisions of time possible in the
relatively recent geologic past, when more information is preserved. By dividing the Tertiary Period into two periods instead of five epochs, the periods are more closely comparable to the duration of 'periods' in the Mesozoic and Paleozoic Eras.
Neogene Period is a unit of geologic time starting 23.03 ± 0.05 million years ago. The Neogene Period follows the Paleogene Period of the Cenozoic Era. Under the current proposal of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the Neogene would consist of the Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene epochs and continue until the present.
The terms Neogene System (formal) and upper Tertiary System (informal) describe the rocks deposited during the Neogene Period. The Neogene covers roughly 23 million years. During the Neogene mammals and birds evolved considerably. Most other forms were relatively unchanged. Some continental motion took place, the most significant event being the connection of North and South America in the late Pliocene. Climates cooled somewhat over the duration of the Neogene culminating in continental glaciations in the Quaternary sub-era (or period, in some time scales) that follows, and that saw the dawn of the genus Homo.
The Neogene traditionally ended at the end of the Pliocene epoch, just before the older definition of the beginning of the Quaternary Period; many time scales show this division. However, there is a movement amongst geologists (particularly Neogene Marine Geologists) to also include ongoing geological time (Quaternary) in the Neogene, while others (particularly Quaternary Terrestrial Geologists) insist the
Quaternary to be a separate period of distinctly different record. The somewhat confusing terminology and disagreement amongst geologists on where to draw what hierarchical boundaries, is due to the comparatively fine divisibility of time units as time approaches the present, and due to geological preservation that causes the youngest sedimentary geological record to be preserved over a much larger area and reflecting many more environments, than the slightly older geological record. By dividing the Cenozoic era into three (arguably two) periods (Paleogene, Neogene, Quaternary) instead of 7 epochs, the periods are more closely comparable to the duration of periods in the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras. The ICS once proposed that the Quaternary be considered a sub-era (sub-erathem) of the Neogene, with a beginning date of 2.588 Ma., namely the start of the Gelasian Stage. The International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) counterproposed that the Neogene and the Pliocene end at 2.588 Ma., that the Gelasian be transferred to the Pleistocene, and the Quaternary be recognized as the third period in the Cenozoic, citing the key changes in Earth's climate, oceans, and biota that occurred 2.588 Ma. and its correspondence to the Gauss-Matuyama magnetostratigraphic boundary. 2006 ICS and INQUA reached a compromise that made Quaternary a subera, subdividing Cenozoic into the old classical Tertiary and Quaternary, a compromise that was rejected by International Union of Geological Sciences because it split both Neogene and Pliocene in two.