Paleozoic


Paleozoic
Paleozoic era
542 - 251 million years ago
Key events in the Paleozoic
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An approximate timescale of key Paleozoic events.
Axis scale: millions of years ago.

The Paleozoic era (from the Greek palaios (παλαιός), "old" and zoe (ζωή), "life", meaning "ancient life") is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic eon, spanning from roughly 542 to 251 million years ago (ICS, 2004). It is the longest of the Phanerozoic eras, and is subdivided into six geologic periods; from oldest to youngest they are: the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian.

The Paleozoic was a time of dramatic geological, climatic, and evolutionary change. The Cambrian period 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. Fish, arthropods, amphibians and reptiles all evolved during the Paleozoic. Life started out in the ocean but eventually transitioned onto land, and by the late Paleozoic, the land was dominated by various forms of organisms, and great forests of primitive plants covered the continents, forming the coal beds of Europe and eastern North America. By the end of the era, the first large, sophisticated reptiles and the first modern plants, (conifers) had developed.

The Paleozoic era ended with the largest mass extinction in Earth's history, the Permian–Triassic extinction event. The effects of this catastrophe were so devastating that it took life on land 30 million years to recover.[1] Recovery of life in the sea may have been much faster.[2]

Contents

Geology

In North America, the era began with deep sedimentary basins along the eastern, southeastern, and western sides of the continent, while the interior was dry land. As the era proceeded, the marginal seas periodically washed over the stable interior, leaving sedimentary deposits to mark their incursions. During the early part of the era, the area of exposed Precambrian, or shield, rocks in central Canada were eroding, supplying sediment to the basins from the interior. Beginning in the Ordovician period, mountain building intermittently proceeded in the eastern part of the Appalachian region throughout the rest of the era, bringing in new sediments. Sediments washing from the Acadian Mountains filled the western part of the Appalachian basins to form the famous coal swamps of the Carboniferous period.

Paleoclimatic studies and evidence of glaciers indicate that central Africa was most likely in the polar regions during the early Paleozoic. During the early Paleozoic, the huge continent Gondwanaland had either formed or was forming. 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 Pangaea and resulted in some of the great mountain chains, including the Appalachians, Urals, and mountains of Tasmania.

Animal life

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. A few primitive fish-like invertebrates, and then vertebrates, appeared in the Cambrian and Ordovician, scorpions in the Silurian period, land invertebrates and amphibians in the Devonian, land reptiles in the Carboniferous, and marine reptiles in the Permian.

Amphibians were the dominant vertebrates until the mid Carboniferous, then climate change greatly reduced their diversity; meanwhile reptiles prospered and continued to increase in number and variety by the late Permian.[3]

Plant life

Plant life of the Paleozoic era 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.[3]

Tectonics

Land distribution in the Early Paleozoic, 514 Ma

Geologically, the Paleozoic starts shortly after the breakup of a supercontinent called Pannotia and at the end of the global Varanger glaciation and Snowball Earth. Throughout the early Paleozoic, the Earth's landmass was broken up into a substantial number of relatively small continents. Toward the end of the era, the continents gathered together into a supercontinent called Pangaea, which included most of the Earth's land area.

Climate

The Ordovician and Silurian periods 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 Ma cool period, the Early Palaeozoic Icehouse, culminating in the Hirnantian glaciation.[4]

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 with considerable speed, 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 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.

The late Paleozoic was a time which has left us a good many unanswered questions. The Mississippian epoch began with a spike in atmospheric oxygen, while carbon dioxide plummeted to unheard-of 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; but, this time, the effects on world biota were inconsequential. By the Cisuralian, both oxygen and carbon dioxide had recovered to more normal levels. On the other hand, the assembly of Pangea created huge arid inland areas subject to temperature extremes. The Lopingian is associated with falling sea levels, increased carbon dioxide and general climatic deterioration, culminating in the devastation of the Permian extinction.

See also

References and further reading

  1. ^ Sahney, S. and Benton, M.J. (2008). "Recovery from the most profound mass extinction of all time" (PDF). Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological 275 (1636): 759–65. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.1370. PMC 2596898. PMID 18198148. http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/qq5un1810k7605h5/fulltext.pdf. 
  2. ^ url=http://www.economist.com/node/16524904
  3. ^ a b 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. http://geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/38/12/1079. 
  4. ^ Munnecke, A.; Calner, M.; Harper, D. A. T.; Servais, T. (2010). "Ordovician and Silurian sea-water chemistry, sea level, and climate: A synopsis". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 296 (3–4): 389–413. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2010.08.001.  edit
Preceded by Proterozoic Eon 542 Ma - Phanerozoic Eon - Present
542 Ma - Paleozoic Era - 251 Ma 251 Ma - Mesozoic Era - 65 Ma 65 Ma - Cenozoic Era - Present
Cambrian Ordovician Silurian Devonian Carboniferous Permian Triassic Jurassic Cretaceous Paleogene Neogene Quaternary

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  • paleozoic — PALEOZÓIC, Ă, paleozoici, ce, s.n., adj. 1. s.n. A doua eră geologică, a cărei floră se caracterizează prin prezenţa talofitelor, prin predominanţa criptogamelor vasculare şi prin apariţia gimnospermelor şi în a cărei faună se întâlnesc toate… …   Dicționar Român

  • Paleozoic — [pā΄lē ə zō′ik] adj. [ PALEO + ZO + IC] [sometimes p ] designating or of the first geologic era of the Phanerozoic Eon, characterized by the development of the first fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and land plants designating or of the first… …   English World dictionary

  • Paleozoic — Pa le*o*zo ic, n. (Geol.) The Paleozoic time or strata. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Paleozoic — Pa le*o*zo ic, a. [Paleo + Gr. zwh life, fr. zh^n to live.] (Geol.) Of or pertaining to, or designating, the older division of geological time during which life is known to have existed, including the Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous ages,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Paleozoic — geological era between the Precambrian and the Mesozoic, 1838, coined by Adam Sedgwick (1785 1873) from PALEO (Cf. paleo ) + Gk. zoe life …   Etymology dictionary

  • Paleozoic — adjective Date: 1838 of, relating to, originating in, or being an era of geological history that extends from the beginning of the Cambrian to the close of the Permian and is marked by the culmination of nearly all classes of invertebrates except …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Paleozoic — /pay lee euh zoh ik/ or, esp. Brit., /pal ee /, Geol. adj. 1. noting or pertaining to an era occurring between 570 million and 230 million years ago, characterized by the advent of fish, insects, and reptiles. See table under geologic time. n. 2 …   Universalium

  • Paleozoic — 1. adjective Of a geologic era within the Phanerozoic eon that comprises the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian periods from about 542 to 250 million years ago, from the age …   Wiktionary

  • paleozoic — pa·le·o·zo·ic || ‚peɪlɪəʊ zəʊɪk /‚pæl adj. of the Paleozoic Era, pertaining to the early geological period in which fish reptile and insects first appeared on Earth …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Paleozoic — Pa•le•o•zo•ic [[t]ˌpeɪ li əˈzoʊ ɪk[/t]] esp. brit. [[t]ˌpæl i [/t]] adj. 1) gel noting or pertaining to a geologic era occurring between 570 million and 230 million years ago, when fish, insects, and reptiles first appeared 2) gel the Paleozoic… …   From formal English to slang


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