Eocene–Oligocene extinction event

The transition between the end of the Eocene (33.9 Ma) and the beginning of the Oligocene is marked by large-scale extinction and floral and faunal turnover (although minor in comparison to the largest mass extinctions).[1] Most of the affected organisms were marine or aquatic in nature. They included the last of the ancient cetaceans, the Archaeoceti.

This was a time of major climatic change, especially cooling, not obviously linked with any single major impact or any catastrophic volcanic event.[2] One cause of the extinction event is speculated to be extended volcanic activity. Another speculation is that the extinctions are related to several large meteorite impacts that occurred about this time. One such event caused the Chesapeake Bay impact crater 40 km (25 mi), and another at the Popigai crater 100 km (62 mi) of central Siberia, scattering debris perhaps as far as Europe. New dating of the Popigai meteor suggests it may be a cause of the mass extinction.[3]

A leading scientific theory on climate cooling at this time predicts a decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide, which slowly declined in the mid to late Eocene and possibly reached some threshold approximately 34 million years ago. This boundary is closely linked with the Oligocene Oi-1 event, an oxygen isotope excursion that marks the beginning of ice sheet coverage on Antarctica.[4][5]

Marine extinction intensity during the Phanerozoic
Millions of years ago
Eocene–Oligocene extinction is labeled E– OG.

Grande Coupure

The Grande Coupure, or "great break" in continuity,[6] with a major European turnover in mammalian fauna about 33.5 Ma, marks the end of the last phase of Eocene assemblages, the Priabonian, and the arrival in Europe of Asian species. The Grande Coupure is characterized by widespread extinctions and allopatric speciation in small isolated relict populations.[7] It was given its name in 1910 by the Swiss palaeontologist Hans Georg Stehlin,[8] to characterise the dramatic turnover of European mammalian fauna, which he placed at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. A comparable turnover in Asian fauna has since been called the "Mongolian Remodelling".

The Grande Coupure marks a break between endemic European faunas before the break and mixed faunas with a strong Asian component afterwards. J. J. Hooker and his team summarized the break:[9]

"Pre-Grande Coupure faunas are dominated by the perissodact family Palaeotheriidae (distant horse relatives), six families of artiodactyls (cloven-hoofed mammals) (Anoplotheriidae, Xiphodontidae, Choeropotamidae, Cebochoeridae, Dichobunidae and Amphimerycidae), the rodent family Pseudosciuridae, the primate families Omomyidae and Adapidae, and the archontan family Nyctitheriidae.
"Post-Grande Coupure faunas include the true rhinoceros (family Rhinocerotidae), three artiodactyl families (Entelodontidae, Anthracotheriidae and Gelocidae) related respectively to pigs, hippos and ruminants, the rodent families Eomyidae, Cricetidae (hamsters) and Castoridae (beavers), and the lipotyphlan family Erinaceidae (hedgehogs). The speciose genus Palaeotherium plus Anoplotherium and the families Xiphodontidae and Amphimerycidae were observed to disappear completely.
"Only the marsupial family Herpetotheriidae, the artiodactyl family Cainotheriidae, and the rodent families Theridomyidae and Gliridae (dormice) crossed the faunal divide undiminished."

It has been suggested that this was caused by climate change associated with the earliest polar glaciations[10] and a major fall in sea levels, or by competition with taxa dispersing from Asia. However, few argue for an isolated single cause. Other possible causes are related to the impact of one or more large bolides in northern hemisphere at Popigai, Toms Canyon and Chesapeake Bay. Improved correlation of northwest European successions to global events[9] confirms the Grande Coupure as occurring in the earliest Oligocene, with a hiatus of about 350 millennia prior to the first record of post-Grande Coupure Asian immigrant taxa.

An element of the paradigm of the Grande Coupure was the apparent extinction of all European primates at the Coupure: the 1999 discovery[11] of a mouse-sized early Oligocene omomyid, reflecting the better survival chances of small mammals, further undercut the Grand Coupure paradigm.

Evidence in the world’s ocean current system indicates an abrupt cooling from 34.1 to 33.6 Ma across the Eocene–Oligocene boundary at 33.9 Ma. The remarkable cooling period in the ocean is correlated with pronounced mammalian faunal replacement within continental Asia as well. The Asian biotic reorganization events are comparable to the Grande Coupure in Europe and the Mongolian Remodeling of mammalian communities.[12] The global cooling is also correlated with marked drying conditions in low-latitudes Asia.[13]


  1. ^ Ivany, Linda C.; Patterson, William P.; Lohmann, Kyger C. (2000). "Cooler winters as a possible cause of mass extinctions at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary". Nature. 407 (6806): 887–890. doi:10.1038/35038044. PMID 11057663.
  2. ^ Molina, Eustoquio; Gonzalvo, Concepción; Ortiz, Silvia; Cruz, Luis E. (2006-02-28). "Foraminiferal turnover across the Eocene–Oligocene transition at Fuente Caldera, southern Spain: No cause–effect relationship between meteorite impacts and extinctions". Marine Micropaleontology. 58 (4): 270–286. Bibcode:2006MarMP..58..270M. doi:10.1016/j.marmicro.2005.11.006.
  3. ^ "Russia's Popigai Meteor Crash Linked to Mass Extinction". June 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Zachos, James C.; Quinn, Terrence M.; Salamy, Karen A. (1996-06-01). "High-resolution (104 years) deep-sea foraminiferal stable isotope records of the Eocene-Oligocene climate transition". Paleoceanography. 11 (3): 251–266. Bibcode:1996PalOc..11..251Z. doi:10.1029/96PA00571. ISSN 1944-9186.
  5. ^ Shackleton, N. J. (1986-10-01). "Boundaries and Events in the Paleogene Paleogene stable isotope events". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 57 (1): 91–102. Bibcode:1986PPP....57...91S. doi:10.1016/0031-0182(86)90008-8.
  6. ^ also termed the MP 21 event.
  7. ^ Called "dispersal-generated origination" in Hooker et al. 2004
  8. ^ H.G. Stehlen, 1910. "Remarques sur les faunules de Mammifères des couches eocenes et oligocenes du Bassin de Paris," in Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France, 4'.9, pp 488-520.
  9. ^ a b Hooker, J.J.; Collinson, M.E.; Sille, N.P. (2004). "Eocene-Oligocene mammalian faunal turnover in the Hampshire Basin, UK: calibration to the global time scale and the major cooling event". Journal of the Geological Society. 161 (2): 161–172. doi:10.1144/0016-764903-091.
  10. ^ A major cooling event preceded the Grande Coupure, based on pollen studies in the Paris Basin conducted by Chateauneuf (J.J. Chateauneuf, 1980. "Palynostratigraphie et paleoclimatologie de l'Éocene superieur et de l'Oligocene du Bassin de Paris (France)" in Mémoires du Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, 116 1980).
  11. ^ Köhler, M; Moyà-Solà, S (December 1999). "A finding of oligocene primates on the European continent" (Free full text). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 96 (25): 14664–7. Bibcode:1999PNAS...9614664K. doi:10.1073/pnas.96.25.14664. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 24493. PMID 10588762.
  12. ^ Zhang, R.; Kravchinsky, V.A.; Yue, L. (2012). "Link between Global Cooling and Mammalian Transformation across the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary in the Continental Interior of Asia]". International Journal of Earth Sciences. 101 (8): 2193–2200. Bibcode:2012IJEaS.101.2193Z. doi:10.1007/s00531-012-0776-1.
  13. ^ Li, Y. X.; Jiao, W. J.; Liu, Z. H.; Jin, J. H.; Wang, D. H.; He, Y. X.; Quan, C. (2016-02-11). "Terrestrial responses of low-latitude Asia to the Eocene–Oligocene climate transition revealed by integrated chronostratigraphy". Clim. Past. 12 (2): 255–272. Bibcode:2016CliPa..12..255L. doi:10.5194/cp-12-255-2016. ISSN 1814-9332.

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Antarctic ice sheet

The Antarctic ice sheet is one of the two polar ice caps of the Earth. It covers about 98% of the Antarctic continent and is the largest single mass of ice on Earth. It covers an area of almost 14 million square kilometres (5.4 million square miles) and contains 26.5 million cubic kilometres (6,400,000 cubic miles) of ice. A cubic kilometer of ice weighs approximately one metric gigaton, meaning that the ice sheet weighs 26,500,000 gigatons. Approximately 61 percent of all fresh water on the Earth is held in the Antarctic ice sheet, an amount equivalent to about 58 m of sea-level rise. In East Antarctica, the ice sheet rests on a major land mass, while in West Antarctica the bed can extend to more than 2,500 m below sea level.

In contrast to the melting of the Arctic sea ice, sea ice around Antarctica was expanding as of 2013. The reasons for this are not fully understood, but suggestions include the climatic effects on ocean and atmospheric circulation of the ozone hole, and/or cooler ocean surface temperatures as the warming deep waters melt the ice shelves.


Antarctica (UK: or , US: (listen)) is Earth's southernmost continent. It contains the geographic South Pole and is situated in the Antarctic region of the Southern Hemisphere, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, and is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. At 14,000,000 square kilometres (5,400,000 square miles), it is the fifth-largest continent. For comparison, Antarctica is nearly twice the size of Australia. About 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice that averages 1.9 km (1.2 mi; 6,200 ft) in thickness, which extends to all but the northernmost reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Most of Antarctica is a polar desert, with annual precipitation of only 200 mm (8 in) along the coast and far less inland. The temperature in Antarctica has reached −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) (or even −94.7 °C (−135.8 °F) as measured from space), though the average for the third quarter (the coldest part of the year) is −63 °C (−81 °F). Anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at research stations scattered across the continent. Organisms native to Antarctica include many types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, protista, and certain animals, such as mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation, where it occurs, is tundra.

Antarctica is noted as the last region on Earth in recorded history to be discovered, unseen until 1820 when the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on Vostok and Mirny sighted the Fimbul ice shelf. The continent, however, remained largely neglected for the rest of the 19th century because of its hostile environment, lack of easily accessible resources, and isolation. In 1895, the first confirmed landing was conducted by a team of Norwegians.

Antarctica is a de facto condominium, governed by parties to the Antarctic Treaty System that have consulting status. Twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, and thirty-eight have signed it since then. The treaty prohibits military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research, and protects the continent's ecozone. Ongoing experiments are conducted by more than 4,000 scientists from many nations.

Carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important trace gas in Earth's atmosphere. It is an integral part of the carbon cycle, a biogeochemical cycle in which carbon is exchanged between the Earth's oceans, soil, rocks and the biosphere. Plants and other photoautotrophs use solar energy to produce carbohydrate from atmospheric carbon dioxide and water by photosynthesis. Almost all other organisms depend on carbohydrate derived from photosynthesis as their primary source of energy and carbon compounds. CO2 absorbs and emits infrared radiation at wavelengths of 4.26 µm (asymmetric stretching vibrational mode) and 14.99 µm (bending vibrational mode) and consequently is a greenhouse gas that plays a vital role in regulating Earth's surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere were as high as 4,000 parts per million (ppm) during the Cambrian period about 500 million years ago to as low as 180 ppm during the Quaternary glaciation of the last two million years. Estimates based on reconstructed temperature records suggests that the amount of CO2 during the last 420 million years ago was with ~2000 ppm highest during the Devonian (∼400 Myrs ago) and Triassic (220–200 Myrs ago), with a few maximum estimates ranging up to ∼3,700±1,600 ppm (215 Myrs ago). Global annual mean CO2 concentration has increased by more than 45% since the start of the Industrial Revolution, from 280 ppm during the 10,000 years up to the mid-18th century to 410 ppm as of mid-2018. The present concentration is the highest in the last 800,000 and possibly even the last 20 million years. The increase has been caused by human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. This increase of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere has produced the current episode of global warming. About 30–40% of the CO2 released by humans into the atmosphere dissolves into oceans, rivers and lakes, which has produced ocean acidification.


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 Cenozoic is also known as the Age of Mammals, because the extinction of many groups allowed mammals to greatly diversify so that large mammals dominated it. The continents also moved into their current positions during this era.

Early in the Cenozoic, following the K-Pg extinction event, most of the fauna was relatively small, and included small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. From a geological perspective, it did not take long for mammals and birds to greatly diversify in the absence of the large reptiles that had dominated during the Mesozoic. A group of avians known as the "terror birds" grew larger than the average human and were formidable predators. Mammals came to occupy almost every available niche (both marine and terrestrial), and some also grew very large, attaining sizes not seen in most of today's mammals.

The Earth's climate had begun a drying and cooling trend, culminating in the glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch, and partially offset by the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.


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 (the "Great Break" in continuity) 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 name Eocene comes from the Ancient Greek ἠώς (ēṓs, "dawn") and καινός (kainós, "new") and refers to the "dawn" of modern ('new') fauna that appeared during the epoch.

Evolution of lemurs

The evolutionary history of lemurs occurred in isolation from other primates, on the island of Madagascar, for at least 40 million years. Lemurs are primates belonging to the suborder Strepsirrhini, which branched off from other primates less than 63 mya (million years ago). They share some traits with the most basal primates, and thus are often confused as being ancestral to modern monkeys, apes, and humans. Instead, they merely resemble ancestral primates.

Lemurs are thought to have evolved during the Eocene or earlier, sharing a closest common ancestor with lorises, pottos, and galagos (lorisoids). Fossils from Africa and some tests of nuclear DNA suggest that lemurs made their way to Madagascar between 40 and 52 mya. Other mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence comparisons offer an alternative date range of 62 to 65 mya. An ancestral lemur population is thought to have inadvertently rafted to the island on a floating mat of vegetation, although hypotheses for land bridges and island hopping have also been proposed. The timing and number of hypothesized colonizations has traditionally hinged on the phylogenetic affinities of the aye-aye, the most basal member of the lemur clade.

Having undergone their own independent evolution on Madagascar, lemurs have diversified to fill many niches normally filled by other types of mammals. They include the smallest primates in the world, and once included some of the largest. Since the arrival of humans approximately 2,000 years ago, lemurs are now restricted to 10% of the island, or approximately 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles), with many facing extinction.

Jebel Qatrani Formation

The Jebel Qatrani Formation is a palaeontological and geologic formation located in the Faiyum Governorate of central Egypt.

Conformably overlying the Qasr el Sagha Formation. It is exposed namely between the Jebel Qatrani escarpment and the Qasr el Sagha escarpment, north of Birket Qarun lake near Faiyum.

Last Glacial Period

The Last Glacial Period (LGP) occurred from the end of the Eemian interglacial to the end of the Younger Dryas, encompassing the period c. 115,000 – c. 11,700 years ago. This most recent glacial period is part of a larger pattern of glacial and interglacial periods known as the Quaternary glaciation extending from c. 2,588,000 years ago to present. The definition of the Quaternary as beginning 2.58 Ma is based on the formation of the Arctic ice cap. The Antarctic ice sheet began to form earlier, at about 34 Ma, in the mid-Cenozoic (Eocene–Oligocene extinction event). The term Late Cenozoic Ice Age is used to include this early phase.During this last glacial period there were alternating episodes of glacier advance and retreat. Within the last glacial period the Last Glacial Maximum was approximately 22,000 years ago. While the general pattern of global cooling and glacier advance was similar, local differences in the development of glacier advance and retreat make it difficult to compare the details from continent to continent (see picture of ice core data below for differences). Approximately 13,000 years ago, the Late Glacial Maximum began. The end of the Younger Dryas about 11,700 years ago marked the beginning of the Holocene geological epoch, which includes the Holocene glacial retreat.

From the point of view of human archaeology, the last glacial period falls in the Paleolithic and early Mesolithic periods. When the glaciation event started, Homo sapiens were confined to lower latitudes and used tools comparable to those used by Neanderthals in western and central Eurasia and by Homo erectus in Asia. Near the end of the event, Homo sapiens migrated into Eurasia and Australia. Archaeological and genetic data suggest that the source populations of Paleolithic humans survived the last glacial period in sparsely wooded areas and dispersed through areas of high primary productivity while avoiding dense forest cover. The retreat of the glaciers 15,000 years ago allowed groups of humans from Asia to migrate to the Americas.

List of impact craters on Earth

This list of impact craters on Earth contains a selection of the 190 confirmed craters given in the Earth Impact Database. To keep the lists manageable, only the largest craters within a time period are included. The complete list is divided into separate articles by geographical region.

Popigai crater

The Popigai crater (or astrobleme) in Siberia, Russia, is tied with the Manicouagan Crater as the fourth largest verified impact crater on Earth. A large bolide impact created the 100-kilometre (62 mi) diameter crater approximately 35 million years ago during the late Eocene epoch (Priabonian stage). It is conjectured that it may have influenced the Eocene–Oligocene extinction event.The crater is 300 km (190 mi) east from the outpost of Khatanga and 880 km (550 mi) northeast of the city of Norilsk. It is designated by UNESCO as a Geopark, a site of special geological heritage. There is a small possibility that the Popigai impact crater may have formed simultaneously with the approximately 35-million-year-old Chesapeake Bay and Toms Canyon impact craters.For decades the Popigai crater has fascinated paleontologists and geologists, but the entire area was completely off limits because of the diamonds found there and the mines constructed by gulag prisoners under Stalin. However, a major investigatory expedition was undertaken in 1997, which greatly advanced understanding of the enigmatic structure. The impactor in this event has been identified as either an 8 km (5.0 mi) diameter chondrite asteroid, or a 5 km (3.1 mi) diameter stony asteroid.

The shock pressures from the impact instantaneously transformed graphite in the ground into diamonds within a 13.6 km (8.5 mi) radius of the impact point. These diamonds are usually 0.5 to 2 mm (0.020 to 0.079 in) in diameter, though a few exceptional specimens are 10 mm (0.39 in) in size. The diamonds not only inherited the tabular shape of the original graphite grains but they additionally preserved the original crystals' delicate striations.

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