Last updated
66.0 – 23.03 Ma
Oligocene geography.jpg
A map of Earth as it appeared during the late Paleogene (Oligocene Epoch, 33 Ma)
Name formalityFormal
Alternate spelling(s)Palaeogene, Palæogene
Usage information
Celestial body Earth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Chronological unit Period
Stratigraphic unit System
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definition Iridium enriched layer associated with a major meteorite impact and subsequent K-Pg extinction event.
Lower boundary GSSPEl Kef Section, El Kef, Tunisia
36°09′13″N8°38′55″E / 36.1537°N 8.6486°E / 36.1537; 8.6486
GSSP ratified1991 [3]
Upper boundary definition
Upper boundary GSSPLemme-Carrosio Section, Carrosio, Italy
44°39′32″N8°50′11″E / 44.6589°N 8.8364°E / 44.6589; 8.8364
GSSP ratified1996 [4]
Atmospheric and climatic data
Mean atmospheric O
c. 26 vol %
(130 % of modern)
Mean atmospheric CO
c. 500 ppm
(2 times pre-industrial)
Mean surface temperaturec. 18 °C
(4 °C above modern)

The Paleogene ( /ˈpli.ən,-li.-,ˈpæli-/ PAL-ee-ə-jeen, -ee-oh-, PAY-lee-; also spelled Palaeogene or Palæogene; informally Lower Tertiary or Early Tertiary) is a geologic period and system that spans 43 million years from the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the Neogene Period 23.03 Mya. It is the beginning of the Cenozoic Era of the present Phanerozoic Eon. The earlier term Tertiary Period was used to define the span of time now covered by the Paleogene Period and subsequent Neogene Period; despite no longer being recognised as a formal stratigraphic term, 'Tertiary' is still widely found in earth science literature and remains in informal use. [5] Paleogene is often abbreviated "Pg" (but the United States Geological Survey uses the abbreviation PE for the Paleogene on the Survey's geologic maps). [6] [7]


During the Paleogene, mammals diversified from relatively small, simple forms into a large group of diverse animals in the wake of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that ended the preceding Cretaceous Period. [8]

This period consists of the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene epochs. The end of the Paleocene (56 Mya) was marked by the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, one of the most significant periods of global change during the Cenozoic, 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 term 'Paleogene System' is applied to the rocks deposited during the 'Paleogene Period'.

Climate and geography

The global climate during the Paleogene departed from the hot and humid conditions of the late Mesozoic Era and began a cooling and drying trend. Though periodically disrupted by warm periods, such as the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, [9] this trend persisted until the end of the most recent glacial period of the current ice age, when temperatures began to rise again. The trend was partly caused by the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which significantly lowered oceanic water temperatures. A 2018 study estimated that during the early Palaeogene about 56-48 million years ago, annual air temperatures, over land and at mid-latitude, averaged about 23–29 °C (± 4.7 °C), which is 5–10 °C higher than most previous estimates. [10] [11] For comparison, this was 10 to 15 °C higher than the current annual mean temperatures in these areas. The authors suggest that the current atmospheric carbon dioxide trajectory, if it continues, could establish these temperatures again. [12]

During the Paleogene, the continents continued to drift closer to their current positions. India was in the process of colliding with Asia, forming the Himalayas. The Atlantic Ocean continued to widen by a few centimeters each year. Africa was moving north to collide with Europe and form the Mediterranean Sea, while South America was moving closer to North America (they would later connect via the Isthmus of Panama). Inland seas retreated from North America early in the period. Australia had also separated from Antarctica and was drifting toward Southeast Asia.

Flora and fauna

Mammals began a rapid diversification during this period. After the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, which saw the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs, mammals began to evolve from a few small and generalized forms into most of the modern varieties we see today. Some of these mammals evolved into large forms that dominated the land, while others became capable of living in marine, specialized terrestrial, and airborne environments. Those that took to the oceans became modern cetaceans, while those that took to the trees became primates, the group to which humans belong. Birds, extant dinosaurs which were already well established by the end of the Cretaceous, also experienced adaptive radiation as they took over the skies left empty by the now extinct pterosaurs. Some flightless birds such as penguins, ratites, and terror birds, also filled niches left by the extinct hesperornithes and dinosaurs.

Pronounced cooling in the Oligocene led to a massive floral shift, and many extant modern plants arose during this time. Grasses and herbs, such as Artemisia , began to proliferate, at the expense of tropical plants, which began to decline. Conifer forests developed in mountainous areas. This cooling trend continued, with major fluctuation, until the end of the Pleistocene. [13] This evidence for this floral shift is found in the palynological record. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cenozoic</span> Third era of the Phanerozoic Eon (66 million years ago to present)

The Cenozoic is Earth's current geological era, representing the last 66 million years of Earth's history. It is characterized by the dominance of mammals, birds and flowering plants, a cooling and drying climate, and the current configuration of continents. It is the latest of three geological eras since complex life evolved, preceded by the Mesozoic and Paleozoic. It started with the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, when many species, including the non-avian dinosaurs, became extinct in an event attributed by most experts to the impact of a large asteroid or other celestial body, the Chicxulub impactor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eocene</span> Second epoch of the Paleogene Period

The Eocene Epoch is a geological epoch that lasted from about 56 to 33.9 million years ago (mya). It is the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era. The name Eocene comes from the Ancient Greek ἠώς and καινός and refers to the "dawn" of modern ('new') fauna that appeared during the epoch.

The Neogene, informally Upper Tertiary or Late Tertiary, is a geologic period and system that spans 20.45 million years from the end of the Paleogene Period 23.03 million years ago (Mya) to the beginning of the present Quaternary Period 2.58 Mya. The Neogene is sub-divided into two epochs, the earlier Miocene and the later Pliocene. Some geologists assert that the Neogene cannot be clearly delineated from the modern geological period, the Quaternary. The term "Neogene" was coined in 1853 by the Austrian palaeontologist Moritz Hörnes (1815–1868).

The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 33.9 million to 23 million years before the present. As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the epoch are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the epoch are slightly uncertain. The name Oligocene was coined in 1854 by the German paleontologist Heinrich Ernst Beyrich from his studies of marine beds in Belgium and Germany. The name comes from the Ancient Greek ὀλίγος and καινός, and refers to the sparsity of extant forms of molluscs. The Oligocene is preceded by the Eocene Epoch and is followed by the Miocene Epoch. The Oligocene is the third and final epoch of the Paleogene Period.

Quaternary Third and current period of the Cenozoic Era, from 2.58 million years ago to the present

The Quaternary is the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). It follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.58 million years ago to the present. The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene and the Holocene.

Tertiary is a widely used but obsolete term for the geologic period from 66 million to 2.6 million years ago. The period began with the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, at the start of the Cenozoic Era, and extended to the beginning of the Quaternary glaciation at the end of the Pliocene Epoch. The time span covered by the Tertiary has no exact equivalent in the current geologic time system, but it is essentially the merged Paleogene and Neogene periods, which are informally called the Early Tertiary and the Late Tertiary, respectively. The Tertiary established the Antarctic as an icy island continent.

The Late Cretaceous is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous Period is divided in the geologic time scale. Rock strata from this epoch form the Upper Cretaceous Series. The Cretaceous is named after creta, the Latin word for the white limestone known as chalk. The chalk of northern France and the white cliffs of south-eastern England date from the Cretaceous Period.

The Piacenzian is in the international geologic time scale the upper stage or latest age of the Pliocene. It spans the time between 3.6 ± 0.005 Ma and 2.588 ± 0.005 Ma. The Piacenzian is after the Zanclean and is followed by the Gelasian.

The Bartonian is, in the ICS's geologic time scale, a stage or age in the middle Eocene Epoch or Series. The Bartonian Age spans the time between 41.2 and37.71 Ma. It is preceded by the Lutetian and is followed by the Priabonian Age.

Calabrian is a subdivision of the Pleistocene Epoch of the geologic time scale, defined as 1.8 Ma—774,000 years ago ± 5,000 years, a period of ~1.026 million years.

The Danian is the oldest age or lowest stage of the Paleocene Epoch or Series, of the Paleogene Period or System, and of the Cenozoic Era or Erathem. The beginning of the Danian is at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 Ma. The age ended 61.6 Ma, being followed by the Selandian.

The Thanetian is, in the ICS Geologic timescale, the latest age or uppermost stratigraphic stage of the Paleocene Epoch or Series. It spans the time between 59.2 and56 Ma. The Thanetian is preceded by the Selandian Age and followed by the Ypresian Age. The Thanetian is sometimes referred to as the Late Paleocene.

Ypresian First age of the Eocene Epoch

In the geologic timescale the Ypresian is the oldest age or lowest stratigraphic stage of the Eocene. It spans the time between 56 and47.8 Ma, is preceded by the Thanetian Age and is followed by the Eocene Lutetian Age. The Ypresian is consistent with the lower Eocene.

The Lutetian is, in the geologic timescale, a stage or age in the Eocene. It spans the time between 47.8 and41.2 Ma. The Lutetian is preceded by the Ypresian and is followed by the Bartonian. Together with the Bartonian it is sometimes referred to as the Middle Eocene Subepoch.

The Priabonian is, in the ICS's geologic timescale, the latest age or the upper stage of the Eocene Epoch or Series. It spans the time between 37.71 and33.9 Ma. The Priabonian is preceded by the Bartonian and is followed by the Rupelian, the lowest stage of the Oligocene.

The Rupelian is, in the geologic timescale, the older of two ages or the lower of two stages of the Oligocene Epoch/Series. It spans the time between 33.9 and27.82 Ma. It is preceded by the Priabonian Stage and is followed by the Chattian Stage.

The Chattian is, in the geologic timescale, the younger of two ages or upper of two stages of the Oligocene Epoch/Series. It spans the time between 27.82 and23.03 Ma. The Chattian is preceded by the Rupelian and is followed by the Aquitanian.

A system in stratigraphy is a sequence of strata that were laid down together within the same corresponding geological period. The associated period is a chronological time unit, a part of the geological time scale, while the system is a unit of chronostratigraphy. Systems are unrelated to lithostratigraphy, which subdivides rock layers on their lithology. Systems are subdivisions of erathems and are themselves divided into series and stages.

The Paleocene, or Palaeocene, is a geological epoch that lasted from about 66 to 56 million years ago (mya). It is the first epoch of the Paleogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era. The name is a combination of the Ancient Greek παλαιός palaiós meaning "old" and the Eocene Epoch, translating to "the old part of the Eocene".


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