Tertiary period

Tertiary period

Tertiary period, name for the major portion of the Cenozoic era, the most recent of the geologic eras (see Geologic Timescale, table) from around 26 to 66 million years ago. The name Tertiary was first applied about the middle of the 18th cent. to a layer of deposits, largely unconsolidated sediments, geologically younger than, and overlying, certain other deposits then known as Primary and Secondary. Later (c.1830) a fourth division, the Quaternary, was added. Although these divisions of the earth's crust seemed adequate for the region to which the designations were originally applied (parts of the Alps and plains of Italy), when the same system was later extended to other parts of Europe and to America it proved to be inapplicable. It was realized that one scheme of classification could not be applied universally: The names Primary and Secondary were generally abandoned; Tertiary and Quaternary were, and still are, used, but other geologic literature substitutes other names, including the Palaeogene and Neogene. The main divisions of the Tertiary are the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, and Pliocene epochs. Sometimes the Paleocene is included in the Eocene. At the beginning of the Tertiary, the outlines of the North American continent were very similar to those of today; by the close of the period, Europe also had emerged substantially in its present form. Marine submergences in Europe were moderately extensive, but in North America they never went beyond the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and the lower Mississippi valley. These inundations took place chiefly in the Eocene, Oligocene, and Miocene epochs, the continents being generally emergent in the Pliocene epoch. The Tertiary formations of either unconsolidated sediments or quite soft rocks are widespread. In the Tertiary, Gondwanaland finally split completely apart, and India collided with the Eurasian plate (see plate tectonics). The previously existing mountain ranges of North America were again elevated, the Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians, and other ranges were formed in Europe, and in Asia the Himalayas arose. Widespread volcanic activity was prevalent. At the beginning of the period the mammals replaced the reptiles as the dominant animals; each epoch was marked by striking developments in mammalian life. Modern types of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates either were already numerous at the beginning of the period or appeared early in its history.
The chuprichondira geological time interval covers roughly the time span between the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs and beginning of the most recent Ice Age, approximately 65 million to 1.8 million years ago.

At the beginning of the period, mammals replaced reptiles as the dominant vertebrates. Each epoch of the Tertiary was marked by striking developments in mammalian life. The earliest recognizable hominoid relatives of humans, Proconsul and Australopithecus, also. Modern types of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates were either already numerous at the beginning of the period or appeared early in its history. Modern families of flowering plants evolved. Marine invertebrates and non-mammal marine vertebrates experienced only modest evolution.

Tectonic activity continued as Gondwana finally split completely apart, and India collided with the Eurasian plate. South America was connected to North America toward the end of the Tertiary. Antarctica — which was already separate — drifted to its current position over the South Pole. Widespread volcanic activity was prevalent. Climates during the Tertiary slowly cooled, starting off in the Paleocene with tropical-to-moderate worldwide temperatures and ending up with extensive glaciations at the end of the period.

Historical use of the term

The term Tertiary was first used by Giovanni Arduino in 1759. He classified geologic time into primitive (or primary), secondary, and tertiary periods based on observations of geology in northern Italy. Later a fourth period, the Quaternary, was applied. In 1828, Charles Lyell incorporated a Tertiary period into his own, far more detailed system of classification. He subdivided the Tertiary period into four epochs according to the percentage of fossil mollusks resembling modern species found in those strata. He used Greek names: Eocene, Miocene, Older Pliocene and Newer Pliocene. Although these divisions seemed adequate for the region to which the designations were originally applied (parts of the Alps and plains of Italy), when the same system was later extended to other parts of Europe and to America, it proved to be inapplicable. Therefore, later the use of mollusks was abandoned from the definition and the epochs were renamed and redefined. With current terminology, what was called the Tertiary began at the start of the Paleocene and lasted through the end of the Pliocene.

Climate

See: Zachos 2001

The climate for the Tertiary period was changed a lot. There was a cool time towards the beginning then a warming trend and then a cool interval again.

References

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