Pennsylvanian (geology)

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The Pennsylvanian (also known as Upper Carboniferous or Late Carboniferous) is, in the ICS geologic timescale, the younger of two subperiods (or upper of two subsystems) of the Carboniferous Period. It lasted from roughly 323.2  million years ago to 298.9  million years ago Ma (million years ago). As with most other geochronologic units, the rock beds that define the Pennsylvanian are well identified, but the exact date of the start and end are uncertain by a few hundred thousand years. The Pennsylvanian is named after the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, where the coal-productive beds of this age are widespread. [1]

The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), sometimes referred to by the unofficial name "International Stratigraphic Commission" is a daughter or major subcommittee grade scientific daughter organization that concerns itself with stratigraphy, geological, and geochronological matters on a global scale.

A system in stratigraphy is a unit of rock layers 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 Carboniferous is a geologic period and system that spans 60 million years from the end of the Devonian Period 358.9 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Permian Period, 298.9 Mya. The name Carboniferous means "coal-bearing" and derives from the Latin words carbō ("coal") and ferō, and was coined by geologists William Conybeare and William Phillips in 1822.</ref>


The division between Pennsylvanian and Mississippian comes from North American stratigraphy. In North America, where the early Carboniferous beds are primarily marine limestones, the Pennsylvanian was in the past treated as a full-fledged geologic period between the Mississippian and the Permian. In Europe, the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are one more-or-less continuous sequence of lowland continental deposits and are grouped together as the Carboniferous Period. The current internationally used geologic timescale of the ICS gives the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian the rank of subperiods, subdivisions of the Carboniferous Period.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolomite, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In fact, in old USGS publications, dolomite was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones.

The Permian is a geologic period and system which spans 47 million years from the end of the Carboniferous Period 298.9 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Triassic period 251.902 Mya. It is the last period of the Paleozoic era; the following Triassic period belongs to the Mesozoic era. The concept of the Permian was introduced in 1841 by geologist Sir Roderick Murchison, who named it after the city of Perm.


Generalized geographic map of the United States in middle Pennsylvanian time. US pennsylvanian general USGS.jpg
Generalized geographic map of the United States in middle Pennsylvanian time.


All modern classes of fungi have been found in rocks of Pennsylvanian age. [2]

In biological classification, class is a taxonomic rank, as well as a taxonomic unit, a taxon, in that rank. Other well-known ranks in descending order of size are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, order, family, genus, and species, with class fitting between phylum and order.


Amphibians were diverse and common; some were several meters long as adults. The collapse of the rainforest ecology in the mid-Pennsylvanian (between the Moscovian and the Kasimovian) removed many amphibian species that did not survive as well in the cooler, drier conditions. Reptiles, however, prospered due to specific key adaptations. [3] One of the greatest evolutionary innovations of the Carboniferous was the amniote egg, which allowed for the further exploitation of the land by certain tetrapods. These included the earliest sauropsid reptiles ( Hylonomus ), and the earliest known synapsid ( Archaeothyris ). Small lizard-like animals quickly gave rise to many descendants. Reptiles underwent a major evolutionary radiation, in response to the drier climate that followed the rainforest collapse. [3] [4]

Amphibian A class of ectothermic tetrapods, which typically breed in water

Amphibians are ectothermic, tetrapod vertebrates of the class Amphibia. Modern amphibians are all Lissamphibia. They inhabit a wide variety of habitats, with most species living within terrestrial, fossorial, arboreal or freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Thus amphibians typically start out as larvae living in water, but some species have developed behavioural adaptations to bypass this. The young generally undergo metamorphosis from larva with gills to an adult air-breathing form with lungs. Amphibians use their skin as a secondary respiratory surface and some small terrestrial salamanders and frogs lack lungs and rely entirely on their skin. They are superficially similar to lizards but, along with mammals and birds, reptiles are amniotes and do not require water bodies in which to breed. With their complex reproductive needs and permeable skins, amphibians are often ecological indicators; in recent decades there has been a dramatic decline in amphibian populations for many species around the globe.

Amniote group of tetrapods

Amniotes are a clade of tetrapod vertebrates comprising the reptiles, birds, and mammals. Amniotes lay their eggs on land or retain the fertilized egg within the mother, and are distinguished from the anamniotes, which typically lay their eggs in water. Older sources, particularly prior to the 20th century, may refer to amniotes as "higher vertebrates" and anamniotes as "lower vertebrates", based on the discredited idea of the evolutionary great chain of being.

Tetrapod superclass of the first four-limbed vertebrates and their descendants

Tetrapods (from Greek: τετρα- "four" and πούς "foot") are four-limbed animals constituting the superclass Tetrapoda. It includes existing and extinct amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Tetrapods evolved from a group of animals known as the Tetrapodomorpha which, in turn, evolved from ancient Sarcopterygii around 390 million years ago in the middle Devonian period; their forms were transitional between lobe-finned fishes and the four-limbed tetrapods. The first tetrapods appeared by the late Devonian, 367.5 million years ago; the specific aquatic ancestors of the tetrapods, and the process by which they colonized Earth's land after emerging from water remains unclear. The change from a body plan for breathing and navigating in water to a body plan enabling the animal to move on land is one of the most profound evolutionary changes known. The first tetrapods were primarily aquatic. Modern amphibians, which evolved from earlier groups, are generally semiaquatic; the first stage of their lives is as fish-like tadpoles, and later stages are partly terrestrial and partly aquatic. However, most tetrapod species today are amniotes, most of those are terrestrial tetrapods whose branch evolved from earlier tetrapods about 340 million years ago. The key innovation in amniotes over amphibians is laying of eggs on land or having further evolved to retain the fertilized egg(s) within the mother.


The major forms of life at this time were the arthropods. Due to the high levels of oxygen, arthropods were far larger than modern ones. Arthropleura , a giant millipede relative, was a common sight and the giant dragonfly Meganeura "flew the skies". [5]

<i>Arthropleura</i> extinct insect from Scotland and northeastern America

Arthropleura is a genus of extinct millipede arthropods that lived in what is now northeastern North America and Scotland around 315 to 299 million years ago, during the late Carboniferous Period. The larger species of the genus are the largest known land invertebrates of all time, and would have had few, if any, predators.

<i>Meganeura</i> genus of insects (fossil)

Meganeura is a genus of extinct insects from the Carboniferous period, which resembled and are related to the present-day dragonflies. With wingspans ranging from 65 cm (25.6 in) to over 70 cm (28 in), M. monyi is one of the largest-known flying insect species. Meganeura were predatory, with their diet mainly consisting of other insects.


The Pennsylvanian has been variously subdivided. The international timescale of the ICS follows the Russian subdivision into four stages:

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is by a considerable margin the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, including Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world and the second largest city in Europe; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

North American subdivision is into five stages, but not precisely the same, with additional (older) Appalachian series names following:

The Virgilian or Conemaugh corresponds to the Gzhelian plus the uppermost Kasimovian. The Missourian or Monongahela corresponds to the rest of the Kasimovian. The Desmoinesian or Allegheny corresponds to the upper half of the Moscovian. The Atokan or upper Pottsville corresponds to the lower half of the Moscovian. The Morrowan corresponds to the Bashkirian.

In the European subdivision, the Carboniferous is divided into two epochs: Dinantian (early) and Silesian (late). The Silesian starts earlier than the Pennsylvanian and is divided in three ages:

Related Research Articles

The Mississippian is a subperiod in the geologic timescale or a subsystem of the geologic record. It is the earliest/lowermost of two subperiods of the Carboniferous period lasting from roughly 358.9 to 323.2 million years ago. As with most other geochronologic units, the rock beds that define the Mississippian are well identified, but the exact start and end dates are uncertain by a few million years. The Mississippian is so named because rocks with this age are exposed in the Mississippi River valley.

In the geologic timescale, the Asselian is the earliest geochronologic age or lowermost chronostratigraphic stage of the Permian. It is a subdivision of the Cisuralian epoch or series. The Asselian lasted between 298.9 and 295 million years ago (Ma). It was preceded by the Gzhelian and followed by the Sakmarian.

The Bashkirian is in the ICS geologic timescale the lowest stage or oldest age of the Pennsylvanian. The Bashkirian age lasted from 323.2 to 315.2 Ma, is preceded by the Serpukhovian and is followed by the Moscovian.

The Serpukhovian is in the ICS geologic timescale the uppermost stage or youngest age of the Mississippian, the lower subsystem of the Carboniferous. The Serpukhovian age lasted from 330.9 Ma to 323.2 Ma. It is preceded by the Visean and is followed by the Bashkirian.

In geochronology, an epoch is a subdivision of the geologic timescale that is longer than an age but shorter than a period. The current epoch is the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period. Rock layers deposited during an epoch are called a series. Series are subdivisions of the stratigraphic column that, like epochs, are subdivisions of the geologic timescale. Like other geochronological divisions, epochs are normally separated by significant changes in the rock layers to which they correspond.

Mississippian may refer to:

The Kasimovian is a geochronologic age or chronostratigraphic stage in the ICS geologic timescale. It is the third stage in the Pennsylvanian, lasting from 307 to 303.7 Ma. The Kasimovian stage follows the Moscovian and is followed by the Gzhelian. The Kasimovian saw an extinction event which occurred around 305 mya, referred to as the Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse.

The Gzhelian is an age in the ICS geologic timescale or a stage in the stratigraphic column. It is the youngest stage of the Pennsylvanian, the youngest subsystem of the Carboniferous. The Gzhelian lasted from 303.7 to 298.9 Ma. It follows the Kasimovian age/stage and is followed by the Asselian age/stage, the oldest subdivision of the Permian system.

<i>Archaeovenator</i> species of synapsid

Archaeovenator is an extinct genus of Late Carboniferous varanopid synapsids known from Greenwood County, Kansas of the United States. It was first named by Robert R. Reisz and David W. Dilkes in 2003 and the type species is Archaeovenator hamiltonensis. Archaeovenator hamiltonensis is known from the holotype KUVP 12483, a three-dimensionally preserved, nearly complete and articulated skeleton, including the skull, with limbs and girdles slightly separated from postcranial skeleton. It was collected in the Hamilton Quarry, from the Calhouns Shale Formation of the Shawnee Group, dating to the Virgilian stage of the Late Pennsylvanian Series, about 300 million years ago. The generic name is derived from the Latin Archaeo and venator, meaning "ancient hunter". The specific name is named after its finding place Hamilton Quarry. Archaeovenator is the oldest and the basalmost known varanopid, as it is the sister taxon to all other known varanopsids.

Pottsville Formation

The Pennsylvanian Pottsville Formation is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, western Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio. The formation is also recognized in Alabama. It is a major ridge-former in the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians of the eastern United States. The Pottsville Formation is conspicuous at many sites along the Allegheny Front, the eastern escarpment of the Allegheny or Appalachian Plateau.

Series are subdivisions of rock layers based on the age of the rock and formally defined by international conventions of the geological timescale. A series is therefore a sequence of strata defining a chronostratigraphic unit. Series are subdivisions of systems and are themselves divided into stages.

The Moscovian is in the ICS geologic timescale a stage or age in the Pennsylvanian, the youngest subsystem of the Carboniferous. The Moscovian age lasted from 315.2 to 307 Ma, is preceded by the Bashkirian and is followed by the Kasimovian. The Moscovian overlaps with the European regional Westphalian stage and the North American Atokan and Desmoinesian stages.

The Namurian is a stage in the regional stratigraphy of northwest Europe with an age between roughly 326 and 313 Ma. It is a subdivision of the Carboniferous system or period and the regional Silesian series. The Namurian is named for the Belgian city and province of Namur where strata of this age occur. The Millstone Grit Group in the lithostratigraphy of northern England and parts of Wales is also of Namurian age.

The Westphalian is a stage in the regional stratigraphy of northwest Europe with an age between roughly 313 and 304 Ma. It is a subdivision of the Carboniferous system or period and the regional Silesian series. The Westphalian is named for the region of Westphalia in western Germany where strata of this age occur. The Coal Measures of England and Wales are also largely of Westphalian age though they also extend into the succeeding Stephanian.

The Stephanian is a stage in the regional stratigraphy of northwest Europe with an age between roughly 304 and 299 Ma. It is a subdivision of the Carboniferous system or period and the regional Silesian series. The uppermost units of the Coal Measures of England and Wales are probably of Stephanian age, though the larger part of this formation is referred to the earlier Westphalian. The stage derives its name from the city of Saint-Étienne for its coal mining basin in eastern central France where strata of this age occur.

Carboniferous rainforest collapse extinction event; occurred ca. 305 Ma at the end of the Moscovian in the Carboniferous; altered the vast coal forests that covered the equatorial region of Euramerica, fragmenting them into ‘islands’, causing dwarfism and extinction of many species

The Carboniferous rainforest collapse (CRC) was a minor extinction event that occurred around 305 million years ago in the Carboniferous period. It altered the vast coal forests that covered the equatorial region of Euramerica. This event may have fragmented the forests into isolated 'islands', which in turn caused dwarfism and, shortly after, extinction of many plant and animal species. Following the event, coal-forming tropical forests continued in large areas of the Earth, but their extent and composition were changed.

The Bloyd Formation, or Bloyd Shale, is a geologic formation in Arkansas. It preserves fossils dating back to the Carboniferous period.

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

Idiognathodus is an extinct conodont genus in the family Idiognathodontidae.


  1. Gradstein, Felix M.; James G. Ogg; Alan G. Smith (2005). A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge University Press. p. 288. ISBN   978-0-521-78673-7.
  2. Blackwell, Meredith, Vilgalys, Rytas, James, Timothy Y., and Taylor, John W. Fungi. Eumycota: mushrooms, sac fungi, yeast, molds, rusts, smuts, etc., February 2008, Tree of Life Web Project
  3. 1 2 Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. & Falcon-Lang, H.J. (2010). "Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetrapod diversification in Euramerica" (PDF). Geology. 38 (12): 1079–1082. doi:10.1130/G31182.1.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Kazlev MA (1998). "Palaeos Paleozoic: Carboniferous: The Carboniferous Period" . Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  5. Paul D. Taylor, David N. Lewis (2005). Fossil Invertebrates. The Natural History Museum; First North American Edition edition. p. 160. ISBN   0565091832.