Last updated
Paleogene Period
66–23.03 million years ago
Mean atmospheric O
content over period duration
c. 26 vol % [1] [2]
(130 % of modern level)
Mean atmospheric CO
content over period duration
c. 500 ppm [3]
(2 times pre-industrial level)
Mean surface temperature over period durationc. 18 °C [4]
(4 °C above modern level)
Key events in the Paleogene
An approximate timescale of key Paleogene events.
Axis scale: millions of years ago.

The Paleogene ( /ˈpæliən, ˈpliə-/ ; 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. [7] The Paleogene is most notable for being the time during which 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] The United States Geological Survey uses the abbreviation PE for the Paleogene, [9] [10] but the more commonly used abbreviation is PG with the PE being used for Paleocene.

British English is the standard dialect of English language as spoken and written in the United Kingdom. Variations exist in formal, written English in the United Kingdom. For example, the adjective wee is almost exclusively used in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and occasionally Yorkshire, whereas little is predominant elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described by the term British English. The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken, so a uniform concept of British English is more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English, British English shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word 'British' and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".

The Cretaceous is a geologic period and system that spans 79 million years from the end of the Jurassic Period 145 million years ago (mya) to the beginning of the Paleogene Period 66 mya. It is the last period of the Mesozoic Era, and the longest period of the Phanerozoic Eon. The Cretaceous Period is usually abbreviated K, for its German translation Kreide.

The Neogene 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).


This period consists of the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene epochs. The end of the Paleocene (55.5/54.8 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 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, for which more details are preserved. When the Tertiary Period is divided into two periods instead of directly into five epochs, the periods are more closely comparable to the duration of 'periods' of the preceding Mesozoic and Paleozoic Eras.

The Paleocene or Palaeocene, the "old recent", is a geological epoch that lasted from about 66 to 56 million years ago. It is the first epoch of the Paleogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era. As with many geologic periods, the strata that define the epoch's beginning and end are well identified, but the exact ages remain uncertain.

The Eocene Epoch, lasting from 56 to 33.9 million years ago, is a major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Eocene spans the time from the end of the Paleocene Epoch to the beginning of the Oligocene Epoch. The start of the Eocene is marked by a brief period in which the concentration of the carbon isotope 13C in the atmosphere was exceptionally low in comparison with the more common isotope 12C. The end is set at a major extinction event called the Grande Coupure or the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event, which may be related to the impact of one or more large bolides in Siberia and in what is now Chesapeake Bay. As with other geologic periods, the strata that define the start and end of the epoch are well identified, though their exact dates are slightly uncertain.

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; 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.

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 which, despite having been periodically disrupted by warm periods such as the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, [11] persisted until the temperature begun to rise again due to anthropogenic influences at around 1945. The trend was partly caused by the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which significantly lowered oceanic water temperatures. A 2018 published 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. [12] [13] Or for comparison, it was 10 to 15 °C higher than 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. [14]

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum rapid (in geological terms) global warming, profound changes in ecosystems, and major perturbations in the carbon cycle which started about 55.0 million years ago

The Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), alternatively "Eocene thermal maximum 1" (ETM1), and formerly known as the "Initial Eocene" or "Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum", was a time period with more than 8 °C warmer global average temperature than today. This climate event began at the time boundary of the Paleogene, between the Paleocene and Eocene geological epochs. The exact age and duration of the event is uncertain but it is estimated to have occurred around 55.5 million years ago.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is an ocean current that flows clockwise from west to east around Antarctica. An alternative name for the ACC is the West Wind Drift. The ACC is the dominant circulation feature of the Southern Ocean and has a mean transport estimated at 100-150 Sverdrups, or possibly even higher, making it the largest ocean current. The current is circumpolar due to the lack of any landmass connecting with Antarctica and this keeps warm ocean waters away from Antarctica, enabling that continent to maintain its huge ice sheet.

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 meet 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.

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.

India Country in South Asia

India, also known as the Republic of India, is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh largest country by area and with more than 1.3 billion people, it is the second most populous country as well as the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west; China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the northeast; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, while its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.

Himalayas Mountain range in Asia

The Himalayas, or Himalaya, form a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. The range has many of the Earth's highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The Himalayas include over fifty mountains exceeding 7,200 m (23,600 ft) in elevation, including ten of the fourteen 8,000-metre peaks. By contrast, the highest peak outside Asia is 6,961 m (22,838 ft) tall.

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 transformed from a few small and generalized forms that began to evolve into most of the modern varieties we see today. 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 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, which were already well established by the end of the Cretaceous, also experienced an adaptive radiation as they took over the skies left empty by the now extinct pterosaurs.

Mammal class of tetrapods

Mammals are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the late Triassic, 201–227 million years ago. There are around 5,450 species of mammals. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Soricomorpha. The next three are the Primates, the Cetartiodactyla, and the Carnivora.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth's surface, and contain about 90 percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Dinosaur Superorder of reptiles (fossil)

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233.23 million years ago, although the exact origin and timing of the evolution of dinosaurs is the subject of active research. They became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates after the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event 201 million years ago; their dominance continued through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Reverse genetic engineering and the fossil record both demonstrate that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from earlier theropods during the late Jurassic Period. As such, birds were the only dinosaur lineage to survive the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Dinosaurs can therefore be divided into avian dinosaurs, or birds; and non-avian dinosaurs, which are all dinosaurs other than birds. This article deals primarily with non-avian 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 appear 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. [15] This evidence for this floral shift is found in the palynological record. [16]

Poaceae family of plants

Poaceae or Gramineae is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants known as grasses, commonly referred to collectively as grass. Poaceae includes the cereal grasses, bamboos and the grasses of natural grassland and cultivated lawns and pasture. Grasses have stems that are hollow except at the nodes and narrow alternate leaves borne in two ranks. The lower part of each leaf encloses the stem, forming a leaf-sheath. With around 780 genera and around 12,000 species, Poaceae are the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Fabaceae and Rubiaceae.

<i>Artemisia</i> (genus) genus of plants

Artemisia is a large, diverse genus of plants with between 200 and 400 species belonging to the daisy family Asteraceae. Common names for various species in the genus include mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush.

Pinophyta division of plants

The Pinophyta, also known as Coniferophyta or Coniferae, or commonly as conifers, are a division of vascular land plants containing a single extant class, Pinopsida. They are gymnosperms, cone-bearing seed plants. All extant conifers are perennial woody plants with secondary growth. The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews. As of 1998, the division Pinophyta was estimated to contain eight families, 68 genera, and 629 living species.


Oil industry relevance

The Paleogene is notable in the context of offshore oil drilling, and especially in Gulf of Mexico oil exploration, where it is commonly referred to as the "Lower Tertiary". These rock formations represent the current cutting edge of deep-water oil discovery.

Lower Tertiary rock formations encountered in the Gulf of Mexico oil industry usually tend to be comparatively high temperature and high pressure reservoirs, often with high sand content (70%+) or under very thick evaporite sediment layers. [17]

Lower Tertiary explorations include (partial list):

Related Research Articles

The Cenozoic Era meaning "new life", is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras, following the Mesozoic Era and extending from 66 million years ago to the present day.

The Phanerozoic Eon is the current geologic eon in the geologic time scale, and the one during which abundant animal and plant life has existed. It covers 541 million years to the present, and began with the Cambrian Period when animals first developed hard shells preserved in the fossil record. Its name was derived from the Ancient Greek words φανερός and ζωή, meaning visible life, since it was once believed that life began in the Cambrian, the first period of this eon. The term "Phanerozoic" was coined in 1930 by the American geologist George Halcott Chadwick (1876–1953). The time before the Phanerozoic, called the Precambrian, is now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons.

Tertiary is a widely used term for the geologic period from 66 million to 2.6 million years ago, a timespan that occurs between the Mesozoic Era and the Quaternary, although no longer recognized as a formal unit by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The span of the Tertiary is subdivided into the Paleocene Epoch, the Eocene Epoch, the Oligocene Epoch, the Miocene Epoch and the Pliocene Epoch, extending to the first stage of the Pleistocene Epoch, the Gelasian stage.

Placentalia infraclass of mammals

Placentalia ("Placentals") is one of the three extant subdivisions of the class of animals Mammalia; the other two are Monotremata and Marsupialia. The Placentals are partly distinguishable from other mammals in that the fetus is carried in the uterus of its mother to a relatively late stage of development. It is somewhat of a misnomer since marsupials also nourish their fetuses via a placenta.

Anseranatidae bird

Anseranatidae, the magpie-geese, is a biological family of waterbirds. The only living species, the magpie goose, is a resident breeder in northern Australia and in southern New Guinea.

The Late Cretaceous is the younger of two epochs into which the Cretaceous period is divided in the geologic timescale. Rock strata from this epoch form the Upper Cretaceous series. The Cretaceous is named after the white limestone known as chalk which occurs widely in northern France and is seen in the white cliffs of south-eastern England, and which dates from this time.

The Danian is the oldest age or lowest stage of the Paleocene epoch or series, the Paleogene period or system and the Cenozoic era or erathem. The beginning of the Danian age is at the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 Ma. The age ended 61.6 Ma, being followed by the Selandian age.

Seymour Island island

Seymour Island is an island in the chain of 16 major islands around the tip of the Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. Graham Land is the closest part of Antarctica to South America. It lies within the section of the island chain that resides off the west side of the peninsula's northernmost tip. Within that section, it is separated from Snow Hill Island by Picnic Passage, and sits just east of the larger key, James Ross Island, and its smaller, neighboring island, Vega Island.

Lukas Hottinger was a paleontologist, biologist and geologist. Hottinger collaborated with the Natural History Museum of Basel (Switzerland).

Geology of Bangladesh

The Geology of Bangladesh is affected by the country's location, as Bangladesh is mainly a riverine country. It is the eastern two-thirds of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river delta plain stretching to the north from the Bay of Bengal. There are two small areas of slightly higher land in the north-centre and north-west composed of old alluvium called the Madhupur Tract and the Barind Tract, and steep, folded, hill ranges of older (Tertiary) rocks along the eastern border.

Natural history of New Zealand

The natural history of New Zealand begins when Zealandia broke away from Gondwana in the Cretaceous, before that time it shared its past with Australia and Antarctica. Since this separation the New Zealand biota and landscape has evolved in near isolation from the rest of the world. The exclusively natural history ends in about 1300 AD when humans first settled in New Zealand and the environmental history begins. This short period from 1300 AD till today coincides with the extinction of many of the unique species which evolved over New Zealand's natural history.

Cool tropics paradox

The cool tropics paradox refers to an apparent difference between modeled estimates of tropical temperatures during warm, ice-free periods of the Cretaceous and Eocene, and the colder temperatures which proxies suggested were present. The long-standing paradox was resolved when novel proxy derived temperatures showed significantly warmer tropics during past greenhouse climates. The low-gradient problem, i.e. the very warm polar regions with respect to present day, is still an issue for state-of-the-art climate models.

The climate across the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary is very important to geologic time as it marks a catastrophic global extinction event. Numerous theories have been proposed as to why this extinction event happened including an asteroid known as the Chicxulub asteroid, volcanism, or sea level changes. While the mass extinction is well documented, there is much debate about the immediate and long-term climatic and environmental changes caused by the event. The terrestrial climates at this time are poorly known, which limits the understanding of environmentally driven changes in biodiversity that occurred before the Chicxulub crater impact. Oxygen isotopes across the K–T boundary suggest that oceanic temperatures fluctuated in the Late Cretaceous and through the boundary itself. Carbon isotope measurements of benthic foramifinera at the K–T boundary suggest rapid, repeated fluctuations in oceanic productivity in the 3 million years before the final extinction, and that productivity and ocean circulation ended abruptly for at least tens of thousands of years just after the boundary, indicating devastation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Some researchers suggest that climate change is the main connection between the impact and the extinction. The impact perturbed the climate system with long-term effects that were much worse than the immediate, direct consequences of the impact.

A geological period is one of the several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place.


  1. Image:Sauerstoffgehalt-1000mj.svg
  2. File:OxygenLevel-1000ma.svg
  3. Image:Phanerozoic Carbon Dioxide.png
  4. Image:All palaeotemps.png
  5. Retallack, G. J. (1997). "Neogene Expansion of the North American Prairie". PALAIOS. 12 (4): 380–390. doi:10.2307/3515337. JSTOR   3515337 . Retrieved 2008-02-11.
  6. Zachos, J. C.; Kump, L. R. (2005). "Carbon cycle feedbacks and the initiation of Antarctic glaciation in the earliest Oligocene". Global and Planetary Change. 47 (1): 51–66. Bibcode:2005GPC....47...51Z. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2005.01.001.
  7. Formerly, the period covered by the Paleogene was called the first part of the Tertiary, whose usage is no longer official. "Whatever happened to the Tertiary and Quaternary?"
  8. Robert W. Meredith, Jan E. Janecka, John Gatesy, Oliver A. Ryder, Colleen A. Fisher, Emma C. Teeling, Alisha Goodbla, Eduardo Eizirik, Taiz L. L. Simão, Tanja Stadler, Daniel L. Rabosky, Rodney L. Honeycutt, John J. Flynn, Colleen M. Ingram, Cynthia Steiner, Tiffani L. Williams, Terence J. Robinson, Angela Burk-Herrick, Michael Westerman, Nadia A. Ayoub, Mark S. Springer, William J. Murphy. 2011. Impacts of the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution and KPg extinction on mammal diversification. Science 334:521-524.
  11. Wing, S. L. (2005-11-11). "Transient Floral Change and Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary". Science. 310 (5750): 993–996. doi:10.1126/science.1116913. ISSN   0036-8075.
  12. Naafs et al. (2018). "High temperatures in the terrestrial mid-latitudes during the early Palaeogene". Nature Geoscience. 11 (10): 766–771. doi:10.1038/s41561-018-0199-0.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  13. University of Bristol (30 July 2018). "Ever-increasing CO2 levels could take us back to the tropical climate of Paleogene period". ScienceDaily.
  14. "Ever-increasing CO2 levels could take us back to the tropical climate of Paleogene period". University of Bristol. 2018.
  15. 1925-, Traverse, Alfred (1988). Paleopalynology. Unwin Hyman. ISBN   978-0045610013. OCLC   17674795.
  16. Muller, Jan (January 1981). "Fossil pollen records of extant angiosperms". The Botanical Review. 47 (1): 1–142. doi:10.1007/bf02860537. ISSN   0006-8101.
  17. "Lower Tertiary". Halliburton. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-07-13.