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Mesoproterozoic Era
1600–1000 million years ago
Key events in the Mesoproterozoic
An approximate timescale of key Mesoproterozoic events.
Axis scale: millions of years ago.

The Mesoproterozoic Era is a geologic era that occurred from 1,600 to 1,000 million years ago . The Mesoproterozoic was the first period of Earth's history of which a fairly definitive geological record survives. Continents existed during the preceding era (the Paleoproterozoic), but little is known about them. The continental masses of the Mesoproterozoic were more or less the same ones that exist today.

Geology The study of the composition, structure, physical properties, and history of Earths components, and the processes by which they are shaped.

Geology is an earth science concerned with the solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Geology can also include the study of the solid features of any terrestrial planet or natural satellite such as Mars or the Moon. Modern geology significantly overlaps all other earth sciences, including hydrology and the atmospheric sciences, and so is treated as one major aspect of integrated earth system science and planetary science.

A geologic era is a subdivision of geologic time that divides an eon into smaller units of time. The Phanerozoic Eon is divided into three such time frames: the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic that represent the major stages in the macroscopic fossil record. These eras are separated by catastrophic extinction boundaries, the P-T boundary between the Paleozoic and the Mesozoic and the K-Pg boundary between the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic. There is evidence that catastrophic meteorite impacts played a role in demarcating the differences between the eras.

The abbreviation myr, "million years", is a unit of a quantity of 1,000,000 (i.e. 1×106) years, or 31.6 teraseconds.


Major events and characteristics

The major events of this era are the breakup of the Columbia supercontinent, the formation of the Rodinia supercontinent, and the evolution of sexual reproduction.

Columbia (supercontinent) Ancient supercontinent of approximately 2,500 to 1,500 million years ago

Columbia, also known as Nuna and Hudsonland, was one of Earth's ancient supercontinents. It was first proposed by Rogers & Santosh 2002 and is thought to have existed approximately 2,500 to 1,500 million years ago in the Paleoproterozoic Era. Zhao et al. 2002 proposed that the assembly of the supercontinent Columbia was completed by global-scale collisional events during 2.1–1.8 Ga.

Rodinia Hypothetical neoproterozoic supercontinent from between about a billion to about three quarters of a billion years ago

Rodinia is a Neoproterozoic supercontinent that was assembled 1.1–0.9 billion years ago and broken up 750–633 million years ago. Valentine & Moores 1970 were probably the first to recognise a Precambrian supercontinent, which they named 'Pangaea I'. It was renamed 'Rodinia' by McMenamin & McMenamin 1990 who also were the first to produce a reconstruction and propose a temporal framework for the supercontinent.

Supercontinent Landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton

In geology, a supercontinent is the assembly of most or all of Earth's continental blocks or cratons to form a single large landmass. However, many earth scientists use a different definition: "a clustering of nearly all continents", which leaves room for interpretation and is easier to apply to Precambrian times.

This era is marked by the further development of continental plates and plate tectonics. The first large-scale mountain building episode, the Grenville Orogeny, for which extensive evidence still survives, happened in this period.

Plate tectonics The scientific theory that describes the large-scale motions of Earths lithosphere

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory describing the large-scale motion of seven large plates and the movements of a larger number of smaller plates of the Earth's lithosphere, since tectonic processes began on Earth between 3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The model builds on the concept of continental drift, an idea developed during the first decades of the 20th century. The geoscientific community accepted plate-tectonic theory after seafloor spreading was validated in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

This era was the high point of the Stromatolites before they declined in the Neoproterozoic.

The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time from 1,000 to 541 million years ago.

The era saw the development of sexual reproduction, which greatly increased the complexity of life to come. It was the start of development of communal living among organisms, the multicellular organisms.

It was an Era of apparently critical, but still poorly understood, changes in the chemistry of the sea, the sediments of the earth, and the composition of the air. Oxygen levels had risen to perhaps 1% of today's levels at the beginning of the era and continued rising throughout the Era.

Sediment Particulate solid matter that is deposited on the surface of land

Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of wind, water, or ice or by the force of gravity acting on the particles. For example, sand and silt can be carried in suspension in river water and on reaching the sea bed deposited by sedimentation and if buried, may eventually become sandstone and siltstone.

Oxygen Chemical element with atomic number 8

Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group on the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well as with other compounds. By mass, oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium. At standard temperature and pressure, two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless and odorless diatomic gas with the formula O
. Diatomic oxygen gas constitutes 20.8% of the Earth's atmosphere. As compounds including oxides, the element makes up almost half of the Earth's crust.

Clearly the era did see large quantities of organisms in at least some areas at some periods: The EIA/ARI Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources: An Assessment of 137 Shale Formations in 41 Countries Outside the United States of June 2013 estimated around 194 trillion cubic feet of gas in place (ca. 44 trillion recoverable) and around 93 billion barrels of oil in place (ca. 4.7 billion recoverable) in the Lower Kyalla and Middle Velkerri formations alone of the Beetaloo Basin in Australia's Northern Territory. [1]


The subdivisions of the Mesoproterozoic are arbitrary divisions based on time. They are not geostratigraphic or biostratigraphic units. The base of the Mesoproterozoic is defined chronometrically, in terms of years, rather than by the appearance or disappearance of some organism. This gives an illusory sense of certainty. Radiometric dating is a good tool, and gets better each decade.[ citation needed ] This creates some problems. As a practical matter, radiometric dates have an error margin of 1-2%. That sounds good, but it means that two sites, both measured to be at the exact base of the Ectasian, might differ in age by over 50 My. Since the Ectasian is only 200 My long, these differences dramatically influence its timescale. And this accounts only for random error, ignoring systematic errors. Systematic errors can be caused by extraterrestrial events, by geochemical or biochemical sorting of isotopes, and human error. Thus far, biostratigraphy has usually proved considerably more exact. In addition, a thoughtful choice of biological marker can be used as a signal to expect a whole host of ecological changes. The difference between a Changhsingian and an Induan deposit isn't just a matter of a few years. The world changed significantly at the end of the Permian.

By contrast, the transition from Calymmian to Ectasian has no meaning beyond calendar time. The usual reason given for the use of a chronometric system is that there is insufficient biological activity or geochemical change to find useful markers. That is a position which is now a little uncertain and is going to become increasingly tenuous over the next few years. For example, there are a number of good potential markers in the rise and decline of "Christmas tree" stromatolites, in the ebb and flow of banded iron formations, the appearance of stable carbon-13 isotope (13C) excursions, and so on. These have real meaning for the geologist and paleontologist.

For that matter, they are not completely without biological markers. There has been considerable progress in studying and identifying fossil bacteria and Eukarya. The cyanobacterium Archaeoellipsoides is one relatively common form, apparently known from several species. It is probably related to the extant Anabaena and indicates the presence of significant free oxygen. Oxygen levels also had significant effects on ocean chemistry; continental weathering rates increased and provided sulfates and nitrates as nutrients. It would be remarkable if this didn't result in new populations of both bacterial and eukaryotic organisms. Since the presence of these cells would be tied directly to important geochemical events, they would make ideal organisms for biostratigraphy.

For the time period from 1780 Ma to 850 Ma, an unofficial period based on stratigraphy rather than chronometry, named the Rodinian, is described in the geological timescale review 2012 edited by Gradstein et al., [2] but as of February 2017, this has not yet been officially adopted by the IUGS.

See also

Related Research Articles

Fossil Preserved remains or traces of organisms from a past geological age

A fossil is any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age. Examples include bones, shells, exoskeletons, stone imprints of animals or microbes, objects preserved in amber, hair, petrified wood, oil, coal, and DNA remnants. The totality of fossils is known as the fossil record.

Geologic time scale A system of chronological dating that relates geological strata to time

The geologic time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating that relates geological strata (stratigraphy) to time. It is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other Earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during Earth's history. The table of geologic time spans, presented here, agree with the nomenclature, dates and standard color codes set forth by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

The Precambrian is the earliest part of Earth's history, set before the current Phanerozoic Eon. The Precambrian is so named because it preceded the Cambrian, the first period of the Phanerozoic eon, which is named after Cambria, the Latinised name for Wales, where rocks from this age were first studied. The Precambrian accounts for 88% of the Earth's geologic time.

Radiometric dating, radioactive dating or radioisotope dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks or carbon, in which trace radioactive impurities were selectively incorporated when they were formed. The method compares the abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope within the material to the abundance of its decay products, which form at a known constant rate of decay. The use of radiometric dating was first published in 1907 by Bertram Boltwood and is now the principal source of information about the absolute age of rocks and other geological features, including the age of fossilized life forms or the age of the Earth itself, and can also be used to date a wide range of natural and man-made materials.

The Proterozoic is a geological eon spanning the time from the appearance of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere to just before the proliferation of complex life on the Earth. The name Proterozoic combines the two forms of ultimately Greek origin: protero- meaning "former, earlier", and -zoic, a suffix related to zoe "life". The Proterozoic Eon extended from 2500 mya to 541 mya, and is the most recent part of the Precambrian "supereon." The Proterozoic is the longest eon of the Earth's geologic time scale and it is subdivided into three geologic eras : the Paleoproterozoic, Mesoproterozoic, and Neoproterozoic.

Paleoproterozoic Era (;), spanning the time period from 2,500 to 1,600 million years ago (2.5–1.6 Ga), is the first of the three sub-divisions (eras) of the Proterozoic Eon. The Paleoproterozoic is also the longest era of the Earth's geological history. It was during this era that the continents first stabilized.

Stratigraphy The study of rock layers and their formation

Stratigraphy is a branch of geology concerned with the study of rock layers (strata) and layering (stratification). It is primarily used in the study of sedimentary and layered volcanic rocks. Stratigraphy has two related subfields: lithostratigraphy and biostratigraphy.

Geochronology Science of determining the age of rocks, sediments and fossils

Geochronology is the science of determining the age of rocks, fossils, and sediments using signatures inherent in the rocks themselves. Absolute geochronology can be accomplished through radioactive isotopes, whereas relative geochronology is provided by tools such as palaeomagnetism and stable isotope ratios. By combining multiple geochronological indicators the precision of the recovered age can be improved.

The Rhyacian Period is the second geologic period in the Paleoproterozoic Era and lasted from 2300 Mya to 2050 Mya. Instead of being based on stratigraphy, these dates are defined chronometrically.

The Mesoarchean is a geologic era within the Archean Eon, spanning 3,200 to 2,800 million years ago. The era is defined chronometrically and is not referenced to a specific level in a rock section on Earth. Fossils from Australia show that stromatolites have lived on Earth since the Mesoarchean. The Pongola glaciation occurred around 2,900 million years ago. The first supercontinent Vaalbara broke up during this era about 2,800 million years ago.

Not to be confused with archaea, in spite of biological discussion commonly alluding to the only life forms of that era, e.g. microbes

Siderian First period of the Paleoproterozoic Era

The Siderian Period is the first geologic period in the Paleoproterozoic Era and lasted from 2500 Ma to 2300 Ma. Instead of being based on stratigraphy, these dates are defined chronometrically.

The Ectasian Period is the second geologic period in the Mesoproterozoic Era and lasted from 1400 Mya ago to 1200 Mya. Instead of being based on stratigraphy, these dates are defined chronometrically.

The Stenian Period is the final geologic period in the Mesoproterozoic Era and lasted from 1200 Mya to 1000 Mya. Instead of being based on stratigraphy, these dates are defined chronometrically. The name derives from narrow polymetamorphic belts formed over this period.

Great Oxygenation Event Paleoproterozoic surge in atmospheric oxygen

The Great Oxygenation Event, the beginning of which is commonly known in scientific media as the Great Oxidation Event (GOE, also called the Oxygen Catastrophe, Oxygen Crisis, Oxygen Holocaust, Oxygen Revolution, or Great Oxidation) was the biologically induced appearance of molecular oxygen (dioxygen, O2) in Earth's atmosphere. Geological, isotopic, and chemical evidence suggests a start of around 2.45 billion years ago (2.45 Ga), during the Siderian period, at the beginning of the Proterozoic eon. The causes of the event remain unclear. As of 2016, the geochemical and biomarker evidence for the development of oxygenic photosynthesis before the Great Oxidation Event is inconclusive.

In stratigraphy, paleontology, geology, and geobiology an erathem is the total stratigraphic unit deposited during a certain corresponding span of time during an era in the geologic timescale.

This timeline of natural history summarizes significant geological and biological events from the formation of the Earth to the arrival of modern humans. Times are listed in millions of years, or megaanni (Ma).

Fig Tree Formation

The Fig Tree Formation, also called Fig Tree Group, is a stromatolite-containing geological formation in South Africa. The rock contains fossils of microscopic life forms of about 3.26 billion years old. Identified organisms include the bacterium Eobacterium isolatus and the algae-like Archaeosphaeroides barbertonensis. The fossils in the Fig Tree Formation are considered some of the oldest known organisms on Earth, and provide evidence that life may have existed much earlier than previously thought. The formation comprises shales, turbiditic, lithic greywackes, volcanoclastic sandstones, chert, turbiditic siltstone, conglomerate, breccias, mudstones, and iron-rich shales.


  1. U. S. Energy Information Administration/Advanced Resources International, Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources: An Assessment of 137 Shale Formations in 41 Countries Outside of the United States, June 2013, p. III-46. The Lower Kyalla and Middle Velkerri formations are identified as Mesoproterozoic in references, p. III-49.
  2. Gradstein, F.M. et al. (editors) (2012). The Geologic Time Scale 2012. 1. Elsevier. p. 361. ISBN   978-0-44-459390-0.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)