Paleozoic

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Paleozoic
541.0 ± 1.0 – 251.902 ± 0.024 Ma
Chronology
Etymology
Name formalityFormal
Alternate spelling(s)Palaeozoic
Usage information
Celestial body Earth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Definition
Chronological unit Era
Stratigraphic unit Erathem
Lower boundary definitionAppearance of the Ichnofossil Treptichnus pedum
Lower boundary GSSP Fortune Head section, Newfoundland, Canada
47°04′34″N55°49′52″W / 47.0762°N 55.8310°W / 47.0762; -55.8310
GSSP ratified1992
Upper boundary definitionFirst appearance of the Conodont Hindeodus parvus .
Upper boundary GSSP Meishan, Zhejiang, China
31°04′47″N119°42′21″E / 31.0798°N 119.7058°E / 31.0798; 119.7058
GSSP ratified2001

The Paleozoic (or Palaeozoic) Era ( /ˌpæl.i.əˈz.ɪk,-i.-,ˌp.li.ə-,-li.-/ pal-ee-ə-ZOH-ik, -ee-oh-, pay-lee-, -lee-oh-; [1] [2] from the Greek palaiós (παλαιός), "old" and zōḗ (ζωή), "life", meaning "ancient life" [3] [4] ) is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic Eon. It is the longest of the Phanerozoic eras, lasting from 541 to 251.902 million years ago , and is subdivided into six geologic periods (from oldest to youngest): the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian. The Paleozoic comes after the Neoproterozoic Era of the Proterozoic Eon and is followed by the Mesozoic Era.

Contents

The Paleozoic was a time of dramatic geological, climatic, and evolutionary change. The Cambrian witnessed the most rapid and widespread diversification of life in Earth's history, known as the Cambrian explosion, in which most modern phyla first appeared. Arthropods, molluscs, fish, amphibians, synapsids and diapsids all evolved during the Paleozoic. Life began in the ocean but eventually transitioned onto land, and by the late Paleozoic, it was dominated by various forms of organisms. Great forests of primitive plants covered the continents, many of which formed the coal beds of Europe and eastern North America. Towards the end of the era, large, sophisticated diapsids and synapsids were dominant and the first modern plants (conifers) appeared.

The Paleozoic Era ended with the largest extinction event in the history of Earth, the Permian–Triassic extinction event. The effects of this catastrophe were so devastating that it took life on land 30 million years into the Mesozoic Era to recover. [5] Recovery of life in the sea may have been much faster. [6]

Geology

The Paleozoic era began with the breakup of the supercontinent of Pannotia [7] [8] and ended with the assembly of the supercontinent of Pangaea. [9] The breakup of Pannotia began with the opening of the Iapetus Ocean and other Cambrian seas and coincided with a dramatic rise in sea level. [10] Paleoclimatic studies and evidence of glaciers indicate that Central Africa was most likely in the polar regions during the early Paleozoic. The breakup of Pannotia was followed by the assembly of the huge continent Gondwana ( 510  million years ago). By mid-Paleozoic, the collision of North America and Europe produced the Acadian-Caledonian uplifts, and a subduction plate uplifted eastern Australia. By the late Paleozoic, continental collisions formed the supercontinent of Pangaea and created great mountain chains, including the Appalachians, Ural Mountains, and mountains of Tasmania. [9]

Periods of the Paleozoic Era

There are six periods in the Paleozoic Era: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous (alternatively subdivided into the Mississippian Period and the Pennsylvanian Period), and the Permian. [11]

Cambrian Period

Trilobites Trilobite Heinrich Harder.jpg
Trilobites

The Cambrian spanned from 541 to 485 million years ago and is the first period of the Paleozoic era of the Phanerozoic. The Cambrian marked a boom in evolution in an event known as the Cambrian explosion in which the largest number of creatures evolved in any single period of the history of the Earth. Creatures like algae evolved, but the most ubiquitous of that period were the armored arthropods, like trilobites. Almost all marine phyla evolved in this period. During this time, the supercontinent Pannotia begins to break up, most of which later became the supercontinent Gondwana. [12]

Ordovician Period

Cephalaspis (a jawless fish) Ostracoderm digital recreation..jpg
Cephalaspis (a jawless fish)

The Ordovician spanned from 485 to 444 million years ago. The Ordovician was a time in Earth's history in which many of the biological classes still prevalent today evolved, such as primitive fish, cephalopods, and coral. The most common forms of life, however, were trilobites, snails and shellfish. The first arthropods went ashore to colonize the empty continent of Gondwana. By the end of the Ordovician, Gondwana was at the south pole, early North America had collided with Europe, closing the Atlantic Ocean. Glaciation of Africa resulted in a major drop in sea level, killing off all life that had established along coastal Gondwana. Glaciation may have caused the Ordovician–Silurian extinction events, in which 60% of marine invertebrates and 25% of families became extinct, and is considered the first mass extinction event and the second deadliest. [13]

Silurian Period

The Silurian spanned from 444 to 419 million years ago. The Silurian saw the rejuvenation of life as the Earth recovered from the previous glaciation. This period saw the mass evolution of fish, as jawless fish became more numerous, jawed fish evolved, and the first freshwater fish evolved, though arthropods, such as sea scorpions, were still apex predators. Fully terrestrial life evolved, including early arachnids, fungi, and centipedes. The evolution of vascular plants ( Cooksonia ) allowed plants to gain a foothold on land. These early plants were the forerunners of all plant life on land. During this time, there were four continents: Gondwana (Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, Siberia), Laurentia (North America), Baltica (Northern Europe), and Avalonia (Western Europe). The recent rise in sea levels allowed many new species to thrive in water. [14]

Devonian Period

Eogyrinus (an amphibian) of the Carboniferous Eogyrinus BW.jpg
Eogyrinus (an amphibian) of the Carboniferous

The Devonian spanned from 419 to 359 million years ago. Also known as "The Age of the Fish", the Devonian featured a huge diversification of fish, including armored fish like Dunkleosteus and lobe-finned fish which eventually evolved into the first tetrapods. On land, plant groups diversified incredibly in an event known as the Devonian Explosion when plants made lignin allowing taller growth and vascular tissue: the first trees evolved, as well as seeds. This event also diversified arthropod life, by providing them new habitats. The first amphibians also evolved, and the fish were now at the top of the food chain. Near the end of the Devonian, 70% of all species became extinct in an event known as the Late Devonian extinction, which was the Earth's second mass extinction event. [15]

Carboniferous Period

The Carboniferous spanned from 359 to 299 million years ago. During this time, average global temperatures were exceedingly high; the early Carboniferous averaged at about 20 degrees Celsius (but cooled to 10 °C during the Middle Carboniferous). [16] Tropical swamps dominated the Earth, and the lignin stiffened trees grew to greater heights and number. As the bacteria and fungi capable of eating the lignin had not yet evolved, their remains were left buried, which created much of the carbon that became the coal deposits of today (hence the name "Carboniferous"). Perhaps the most important evolutionary development of the time was the evolution of amniotic eggs, which allowed amphibians to move farther inland and remain the dominant vertebrates for the duration of this period. Also, the first reptiles and synapsids evolved in the swamps. Throughout the Carboniferous, there was a cooling trend, which led to the Permo-Carboniferous glaciation or the Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse. Gondwana was glaciated as much of it was situated around the south pole. [17]

Permian Period

Synapsid: Dimetrodon DimetrodonKnight.jpg
Synapsid: Dimetrodon

The Permian spanned from 299 to 252 million years ago and was the last period of the Paleozoic Era. At the beginning of this period, all continents joined together to form the supercontinent Pangaea, which was encircled by one ocean called Panthalassa. The land mass was very dry during this time, with harsh seasons, as the climate of the interior of Pangaea was not regulated by large bodies of water. Diapsids and synapsids flourished in the new dry climate. Creatures such as Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus ruled the new continent. The first conifers evolved, and dominated the terrestrial landscape. Near the end of the Permian, however, Pangaea grew drier. The interior was desert, and new taxa such as Scutosaurus and Gorgonopsids filled it. Eventually they disappeared, along with 95% of all life on Earth, in a cataclysm known as "The Great Dying", the third and most severe mass extinction. [18] [19]

Climate

The early Cambrian climate was probably moderate at first, becoming warmer over the course of the Cambrian, as the second-greatest sustained sea level rise in the Phanerozoic got underway. However, as if to offset this trend, Gondwana moved south, so that, in Ordovician time, most of West Gondwana (Africa and South America) lay directly over the South Pole. The early Paleozoic climate was also strongly zonal, with the result that the "climate", in an abstract sense, became warmer, but the living space of most organisms of the time—the continental shelf marine environment—became steadily colder. However, Baltica (Northern Europe and Russia) and Laurentia (eastern North America and Greenland) remained in the tropical zone, while China and Australia lay in waters which were at least temperate. The early Paleozoic ended, rather abruptly, with the short, but apparently severe, late Ordovician ice age. This cold spell caused the second-greatest mass extinction of Phanerozoic time. Over time, the warmer weather moved into the Paleozoic Era.

The Ordovician and Silurian were warm greenhouse periods, with the highest sea levels of the Paleozoic (200 m above today's); the warm climate was interrupted only by a 30 million year cool period, the Early Palaeozoic Icehouse, culminating in the Hirnantian glaciation, 445  million years ago at the end of the Ordovician. [20]

The middle Paleozoic was a time of considerable stability. Sea levels had dropped coincident with the ice age, but slowly recovered over the course of the Silurian and Devonian. The slow merger of Baltica and Laurentia, and the northward movement of bits and pieces of Gondwana created numerous new regions of relatively warm, shallow sea floor. As plants took hold on the continental margins, oxygen levels increased and carbon dioxide dropped, although much less dramatically. The north–south temperature gradient also seems to have moderated, or metazoan life simply became hardier, or both. At any event, the far southern continental margins of Antarctica and West Gondwana became increasingly less barren. The Devonian ended with a series of turnover pulses which killed off much of middle Paleozoic vertebrate life, without noticeably reducing species diversity overall.

There are many unanswered questions about the late Paleozoic. The Mississippian (early Carboniferous Period) began with a spike in atmospheric oxygen, while carbon dioxide plummeted to new lows. This destabilized the climate and led to one, and perhaps two, ice ages during the Carboniferous. These were far more severe than the brief Late Ordovician ice age; but, this time, the effects on world biota were inconsequential. By the Cisuralian Epoch, both oxygen and carbon dioxide had recovered to more normal levels. On the other hand, the assembly of Pangaea created huge arid inland areas subject to temperature extremes. The Lopingian Epoch is associated with falling sea levels, increased carbon dioxide and general climatic deterioration, culminating in the devastation of the Permian extinction.

Flora

An artist's impression of early land plants Devonianscene-green.jpg
An artist's impression of early land plants

While macroscopic plant life appeared early in the Paleozoic Era and possibly late in the Neoproterozoic Era of the earlier eon, plants mostly remained aquatic until the Silurian Period, about 420 million years ago, when they began to transition onto dry land. Terrestrial flora reached its climax in the Carboniferous, when towering lycopsid rainforests dominated the tropical belt of Euramerica. Climate change caused the Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse which fragmented this habitat, diminishing the diversity of plant life in the late Carboniferous and Permian periods. [21]

Fauna

A noteworthy feature of Paleozoic life is the sudden appearance of nearly all of the invertebrate animal phyla in great abundance at the beginning of the Cambrian. The first vertebrates appeared in the form of primitive fish, which greatly diversified in the Silurian and Devonian Periods. The first animals to venture onto dry land were the arthropods. Some fish had lungs, and powerful bony fins that in the late Devonian, 367.5 million years ago, allowed them to crawl onto land. The bones in their fins eventually evolved into legs and they became the first tetrapods, 390  million years ago, and began to develop lungs. Amphibians were the dominant tetrapods until the mid-Carboniferous, when climate change greatly reduced their diversity. Later, reptiles prospered and continued to increase in number and variety by the late Permian period. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Cambrian First period of the Paleozoic Era, 541-485 million years ago

The Cambrian Period was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, and of the Phanerozoic Eon. The Cambrian lasted 55.6 million years from the end of the preceding Ediacaran Period 541 million years ago (mya) to the beginning of the Ordovician Period 485.4 mya. Its subdivisions, and its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established as "Cambrian series" by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for 'Cymru' (Wales), where Britain's Cambrian rocks are best exposed. Sedgwick identified the layer as part of his task, along with Roderick Murchison, to subdivide the large "Transition Series", although the two geologists disagreed for a while on the appropriate categorization. The Cambrian is unique in its unusually high proportion of lagerstätte sedimentary deposits, sites of exceptional preservation where "soft" parts of organisms are preserved as well as their more resistant shells. As a result, our understanding of the Cambrian biology surpasses that of some later periods.

Devonian Fourth period of the Paleozoic Era 419-359 million years ago

The Devonian is a geologic period and system of the Paleozoic, spanning 60.3 million years from the end of the Silurian, 419.2 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Carboniferous, 358.9 Mya. It is named after Devon, England, where rocks from this period were first studied.

The Mesozoic Era, also called the Age of Reptiles and the Age of Conifers, is the second-to-last era of Earth's geological history, lasting from about 252 to 66 million years ago and comprising the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. It is characterized by the dominance of archosaurian reptiles, like the dinosaurs; an abundance of conifers and ferns; a hot greenhouse climate; and the tectonic break-up of Pangaea. The Mesozoic is the middle of three eras since complex life evolved: the Paleozoic, the Mesozoic, and the Cenozoic.

The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six periods of the Paleozoic Era. The Ordovician spans 41.6 million years from the end of the Cambrian Period 485.4 million years ago (Mya) to the start of the Silurian Period 443.8 Mya.

Phanerozoic Fourth and current eon of the geological timescale

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 it began with the Cambrian Period when animals first developed hard shells preserved in the fossil record. The time before the Phanerozoic, called the Precambrian, is now divided into the Hadean, Archaean and Proterozoic eons.

Silurian Third period of the Paleozoic Era 444-419 million years ago

The Silurian is a geologic period and system spanning 24.6 million years from the end of the Ordovician Period, at 443.8 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Devonian Period, 419.2 Mya. The Silurian is the shortest period of the Paleozoic Era. As with other geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period's start and end are well identified, but the exact dates are uncertain by a few million years. The base of the Silurian is set at a series of major Ordovician–Silurian extinction events when up to 60% of marine genera were wiped out.

Laurasia Northern supercontinent that formed part of the Pangaea supercontinent

Laurasia, was the more northern of two large landmasses that formed part of the Pangaea supercontinent from around 335 to 175 million years ago (Mya), the other being Gondwana. It separated from Gondwana 215 to 175 Mya during the breakup of Pangaea, drifting farther north after the split and finally broke apart with the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean c. 56 Mya. The name is a blend of Laurentia and Asia.

Avalonia Microcontinent in the Paleozoic era named for the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland

Avalonia was a microcontinent in the Paleozoic era. Crustal fragments of this former microcontinent underlie south-west Great Britain, southern Ireland, and the eastern coast of North America. It is the source of many of the older rocks of Western Europe, Atlantic Canada, and parts of the coastal United States. Avalonia is named for the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland.

Caledonian orogeny Mountain building event caused by the collision of Laurentia, Baltica and Avalonia

The Caledonian orogeny was a mountain-building era recorded in the northern parts of the British Isles, the Scandinavian Mountains, Svalbard, eastern Greenland and parts of north-central Europe. The Caledonian orogeny encompasses events that occurred from the Ordovician to Early Devonian, roughly 490–390 million years ago (Ma). It was caused by the closure of the Iapetus Ocean when the continents and terranes of Laurentia, Baltica and Avalonia collided.

The Uralian orogeny refers to the long series of linear deformation and mountain building events that raised the Ural Mountains, starting in the Late Carboniferous and Permian periods of the Palaeozoic Era, c. 323–299 and 299–251 million years ago (Mya) respectively, and ending with the last series of continental collisions in Triassic to early Jurassic times.

The Rheic Ocean was an ocean which separated two major palaeocontinents, Gondwana and Laurussia (Laurentia-Baltica-Avalonia). One of the principal oceans of the Palaeozoic, its sutures today stretch 10,000 km (6,200 mi) from Mexico to Turkey and its closure resulted in the assembly of the supercontinent Pangaea and the formation of the Variscan–Alleghenian–Ouachita orogenies.

Late Paleozoic icehouse

The late Paleozoic icehouse, formerly known as the Karoo ice age, occurred from 360 to 260 million years ago (Mya), and large land-based ice-sheets were then present on Earth's surface. It was the second major glacial period of the Phanerozoic. It is named after the tillite found in the Karoo Basin of South Africa, where evidence for the ice age was first clearly identified in the 19th century.

Geology of Antarctica Geologic composition of Antarctica

The geology of Antarctica covers the geological development of the continent through the Archean, Proterozoic and Phanerozoic eons.

Geology of England

The geology of England is mainly sedimentary. The youngest rocks are in the south east around London, progressing in age in a north westerly direction. The Tees-Exe line marks the division between younger, softer and low-lying rocks in the south east and the generally older and harder rocks of the north and west which give rise to higher relief in those regions. The geology of England is recognisable in the landscape of its counties, the building materials of its towns and its regional extractive industries.

Geological history of Earth The sequence of major geological events in Earths past

The geological history of Earth follows the major events in Earth's past based on the geological time scale, a system of chronological measurement based on the study of the planet's rock layers (stratigraphy). Earth formed about 4.54 billion years ago by accretion from the solar nebula, a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun, which also created the rest of the Solar System.

Gondwana Neoproterozoic to Cretaceous landmass

Gondwana or Gondwanaland was a supercontinent that existed from the Neoproterozoic and began to break up during the Jurassic, with the final stages of breakup, including the opening of the Drake Passage separating South America and Antarctica occurring during the Paleogene. Gondwana was not considered a supercontinent by the earliest definition, since the landmasses of Baltica, Laurentia, and Siberia were separated from it.

Pangaea Supercontinent from the late Paleozoic to early Mesozoic eras

Pangaea or Pangea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It assembled from earlier continental units approximately 335 million years ago, and began to break apart about 175 million years ago. In contrast to the present Earth and its distribution of continental mass, Pangaea was centred on the Equator and surrounded by the superocean Panthalassa. Pangaea is the most recent supercontinent to have existed and the first to be reconstructed by geologists.

A paleocontinent or palaeocontinent is a distinct area of continental crust that existed as a major landmass in the geological past. There have been many different landmasses throughout Earth's time. They range in sizes, some are just a collection of small microcontinents while others are large conglomerates of crust. As time progresses and sea levels rise and fall more crust can be exposed making way for larger landmasses. The continents of the past shaped the evolution of organisms on Earth and contributed to the climate of the globe as well. As landmasses break apart, species are separated and those that were once the same now have evolved to their new climate. The constant movement of these landmasses greatly determines the distribution of organisms on Earth's surface. This is evident with how similar fossils are found on completely separate continents. Also, as continents move, mountain building events (orogenies) occur, causing a shift in the global climate as new rock is exposed and then there is more exposed rock at higher elevations. This causes glacial ice expansion and an overall cooler global climate. Which effects the overall global climate trend of Earth. The movement of the continents greatly affects the overall dispersal of organisms throughout the world and the trend in climate throughout Earth's history. Examples include Laurentia, Baltica and Avalonia, which collided together during the Caledonian orogeny to form the Old Red Sandstone paleocontinent of Laurussia. Another example includes a collision that occurred during the late Pennsylvanian and early Permian time when there was a collision between the two continents of Tarimsky and Kirghiz-Kazakh. This collision was caused because of their askew convergence when the paleoceanic basin closed.

The prehistory of the United States comprises the occurrences within regions now part of the United States of America during the interval of time spanning from the formation of the Earth to the documentation of local history in written form. At the start of the Paleozoic era, what is now "North" America was actually in the southern hemisphere. Marine life flourished in the country's many seas, although terrestrial life had not yet evolved. During the latter part of the Paleozoic, seas were largely replaced by swamps home to amphibians and early reptiles. When the continents had assembled into Pangaea drier conditions prevailed. The evolutionary precursors to mammals dominated the country until a mass extinction event ended their reign.

The geology of Ohio formed beginning more than one billion years ago in the Proterozoic eon of the Precambrian. The igneous and metamorphic crystalline basement rock is poorly understood except through deep boreholes and does not outcrop at the surface. The basement rock is divided between the Grenville Province and Superior Province. When the Grenville Province crust collided with Proto-North America, it launched the Grenville orogeny, a major mountain building event. The Grenville mountains eroded, filling in rift basins and Ohio was flooded and periodically exposed as dry land throughout the Paleozoic. In addition to marine carbonates such as limestone and dolomite, large deposits of shale and sandstone formed as subsequent mountain building events such as the Taconic orogeny and Acadian orogeny led to additional sediment deposition. Ohio transitioned to dryland conditions in the Pennsylvanian, forming large coal swamps and the region has been dryland ever since. Until the Pleistocene glaciations erased these features, the landscape was cut with deep stream valleys, which scoured away hundreds of meters of rock leaving little trace of geologic history in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic.

References

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Further reading