HOME
        TheInfoList



The geologic time scale (GTS) is a system of chronological dating that classifies geological strata (stratigraphy) in time. It is used by geologists, paleontologists, and other Earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships of events in geologic history. The time scale was developed through the study of physical rock layers and relationships as well as the times when different organisms appeared, evolved and became extinct through the study of fossilized remains and imprints. The table of geologic time spans, presented here, agrees with the nomenclature, dates and standard color codes set forth by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).

Terminology

The primary and largest catalogued divisions of time are periods called ''eons''. The first eon was the Hadean, starting with the formation of the Earth and lasting over 600 million years until the Archean, which is when the Earth had cooled enough for continents and the earliest known life to emerge. After about 2.5 billion years, oxygen generated by photosynthesizing single-celled organisms began to appear in the atmosphere marking the beginning of the Proterozoic. Finally, the Phanerozoic eon encompasses 541 million years of diverse abundance of multicellular life starting with the appearance of hard animal shells in the fossil record and continuing to the present. Eons are divided into eras, which are in turn divided into periods, epochs and ages. The first three eons (i.e. every eon but the Phanerozoic) can be referred to collectively as the Precambrian supereon. This is in reference to the significance of the Cambrian Explosion, a massive diversification of multi-cellular life forms that took place in the Cambrian period at the start of the Phanerozoic. Corresponding to eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages, the terms "eonothem", "erathem", "system", "series", "stage" are used to refer to the layers of rock that belong to these stretches of geologic time in Earth's history. Geologists qualify these units as "early", "mid", and "late" when referring to time, and "lower", "middle", and "upper" when referring to the corresponding rocks. For example, the Lower Jurassic Series in chronostratigraphy corresponds to the Early Jurassic Epoch in geochronology. The adjectives are capitalized when the subdivision is formally recognized, and lower case when not; thus "early Miocene" but "Early Jurassic."

Principles

Evidence from radiometric dating indicates that Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. The geology or ''deep time'' of Earth's past has been organized into various units according to events which are thought to have taken place. Different spans of time on the GTS are usually marked by corresponding changes in the composition of strata which indicate major geological or paleontological events, such as mass extinctions. For example, the boundary between the Cretaceous period and the Paleogene period is defined by the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, which marked the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs and many other groups of life. Older time spans, which predate the reliable fossil record (before the Proterozoic eon), are defined by their absolute age. Geologic units from the same time but different parts of the world often are not similar and contain different fossils, so the same time-span was historically given different names in different locales. For example, in North America, the Lower Cambrian is called the Waucoban series that is then subdivided into zones based on succession of trilobites. In East Asia and Siberia, the same unit is split into Alexian, Atdabanian, and Botomian stages. A key aspect of the work of the International Commission on Stratigraphy is to reconcile this conflicting terminology and define universal horizons that can be used around the world. Some other planets and moons in the Solar System have sufficiently rigid structures to have preserved records of their own histories, for example, Venus, Mars and the Earth's Moon. Dominantly fluid planets, such as the gas giants, do not preserve their history in a comparable manner. Apart from the Late Heavy Bombardment, events on other planets probably had little direct influence on the Earth, and events on Earth had correspondingly little effect on those planets. Construction of a time scale that links the planets is, therefore, of only limited relevance to the Earth's time scale, except in a Solar System context. The existence, timing, and terrestrial effects of the Late Heavy Bombardment are still a matter of debate.

History and nomenclature of the time scale



Early history

In Ancient Greece, Aristotle (384–322 BCE) observed that fossils of seashells in rocks resembled those found on beaches – he inferred that the fossils in rocks were formed by organisms, and he reasoned that the positions of land and sea had changed over long periods of time. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) concurred with Aristotle's interpretation that fossils represented the remains of ancient life. The 11th-century Persian polymath Avicenna (Ibn Sina, died 1037) and the 13th-century Dominican bishop Albertus Magnus (died 1280) extended Aristotle's explanation into a theory of a petrifying fluid. Avicenna also first proposed one of the principles underlying geologic time scales, the law of superposition of strata, while discussing the origins of mountains in ''The Book of Healing'' (1027). The Chinese naturalist Shen Kuo (1031–1095) also recognized the concept of "deep time".

Establishment of primary principles

In the late 17th century Nicholas Steno (1638–1686) pronounced the principles underlying geologic (geological) time scales. Steno argued that rock layers (or strata) were laid down in succession, and that each represents a "slice" of time. He also formulated the law of superposition, which states that any given stratum is probably older than those above it and younger than those below it. While Steno's principles were simple, applying them proved challenging. Steno's ideas also lead to other important concepts geologists use today, such as relative dating. Over the course of the 18th century geologists realized that: # Sequences of strata often become eroded, distorted, tilted, or even inverted after deposition # Strata laid down at the same time in different areas could have entirely different appearances # The strata of any given area represented only part of Earth's long history The Neptunist theories popular at this time (expounded by Abraham Werner (1749–1817) in the late 18th century) proposed that all rocks had precipitated out of a single enormous flood. A major shift in thinking came when James Hutton presented his ''Theory of the Earth; or, an Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land Upon the Globe'' before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in March and April 1785. John McPhee asserts that "as things appear from the perspective of the 20th century, James Hutton in those readings became the founder of modern geology". Hutton proposed that the interior of Earth was hot, and that this heat was the engine which drove the creation of new rock: land was eroded by air and water and deposited as layers in the sea; heat then consolidated the sediment into stone, and uplifted it into new lands. This theory, known as "Plutonism", stood in contrast to the "Neptunist" flood-oriented theory.

Formulation of geologic time scale

The first serious attempts to formulate a geologic time scale that could be applied anywhere on Earth were made in the late 18th century. The most influential of those early attempts (championed by Werner, among others) divided the rocks of Earth's crust into four types: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, and Quaternary. Each type of rock, according to the theory, formed during a specific period in Earth history. It was thus possible to speak of a "Tertiary Period" as well as of "Tertiary Rocks." Indeed, "Tertiary" (now Paleogene and Neogene) remained in use as the name of a geological period well into the 20th century and "Quaternary" remains in formal use as the name of the current period. The identification of strata by the fossils they contained, pioneered by William Smith, Georges Cuvier, Jean d'Omalius d'Halloy, and Alexandre Brongniart in the early 19th century, enabled geologists to divide Earth history more precisely. It also enabled them to correlate strata across national (or even continental) boundaries. If two strata (however distant in space or different in composition) contained the same fossils, chances were good that they had been laid down at the same time. Detailed studies between 1820 and 1850 of the strata and fossils of Europe produced the sequence of geologic periods still used today.

Naming of geologic periods, eras and epochs

Early work on developing the geologic time scale was dominated by British geologists, and the names of the geologic periods reflect that dominance. The "Cambrian", (the classical name for Wales) and the "Ordovician" and "Silurian", named after ancient Welsh tribes, were periods defined using stratigraphic sequences from Wales. The "Devonian" was named for the English county of Devon, and the name "Carboniferous" was an adaptation of "the Coal Measures", the old British geologists' term for the same set of strata. The "Permian" was named after the region of Perm in Russia, because it was defined using strata in that region by Scottish geologist Roderick Murchison. However, some periods were defined by geologists from other countries. The "Triassic" was named in 1834 by a German geologist Friedrich Von Alberti from the three distinct layers (Latin meaning triad)red beds, capped by chalk, followed by black shalesthat are found throughout Germany and Northwest Europe, called the ‘Trias’. The "Jurassic" was named by a French geologist Alexandre Brongniart for the extensive marine limestone exposures of the Jura Mountains. The "Cretaceous" (from Latin ''creta'' meaning ‘chalk’) as a separate period was first defined by Belgian geologist Jean d'Omalius d'Halloy in 1822, using strata in the Paris basin and named for the extensive beds of chalk (calcium carbonate deposited by the shells of marine invertebrates) found in Western Europe. British geologists were also responsible for the grouping of periods into eras and the subdivision of the Tertiary and Quaternary periods into epochs. In 1841 John Phillips published the first global geologic time scale based on the types of fossils found in each era. Phillips' scale helped standardize the use of terms like ''Paleozoic'' ("old life") which he extended to cover a larger period than it had in previous usage, and ''Mesozoic'' ("middle life") which he invented.

Dating of time scales

When William Smith and Sir Charles Lyell first recognized that rock strata represented successive time periods, time scales could be estimated only very imprecisely since estimates of rates of change were uncertain. While creationists had been proposing dates of around six or seven thousand years for the age of Earth based on the Bible, early geologists were suggesting millions of years for geologic periods, and some were even suggesting a virtually infinite age for Earth. Geologists and paleontologists constructed the geologic table based on the relative positions of different strata and fossils, and estimated the time scales based on studying rates of various kinds of weathering, erosion, sedimentation, and lithification. Until the discovery of radioactivity in 1896 and the development of its geological applications through radiometric dating during the first half of the 20th century, the ages of various rock strata and the age of Earth were the subject of considerable debate. The first geologic time scale that included absolute dates was published in 1913 by the British geologist Arthur Holmes. He greatly furthered the newly created discipline of geochronology and published the world-renowned book ''The Age of the Earth'' in which he estimated Earth's age to be at least 1.6 billion years. In 1977, the ''Global Commission on Stratigraphy'' (now the International Commission on Stratigraphy) began to define global references known as GSSP (Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points) for geologic periods and faunal stages. The commission's work is described in the 2012 geologic time scale of Gradstein et al. A UML model for how the timescale is structured, relating it to the GSSP, is also available.

The Anthropocene

Popular culture and a growing number of scientists use the term "Anthropocene" informally to label the current epoch in which we are living. The term was coined by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to describe the current time in which humans have had an enormous impact on the environment. It has evolved to describe an "epoch" starting some time in the past and on the whole defined by anthropogenic carbon emissions and production and consumption of plastic goods that are left in the ground. Critics of this term say that the term should not be used because it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to define a specific time when humans started influencing the rock stratadefining the start of an epoch. Others say that humans have not even started to leave their biggest impact on Earth, and therefore the Anthropocene has not even started yet. The ICS has not officially approved the term . The Anthropocene Working Group met in Oslo in April 2016 to consolidate evidence supporting the argument for the Anthropocene as a true geologic epoch. Evidence was evaluated and the group voted to recommend "Anthropocene" as the new geological age in August 2016. Should the International Commission on Stratigraphy approve the recommendation, the proposal to adopt the term will have to be ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences before its formal adoption as part of the geologic time scale.

Table of geologic time

The following table summarizes the major events and characteristics of the periods of time making up the geologic time scale. This table is arranged with the most recent geologic periods at the top, and the oldest at the bottom. The height of each table entry does not correspond to the duration of each subdivision of time. The content of the table is based on the current official geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), with the epoch names altered to the early/late format from lower/upper as recommended by the ICS when dealing with chronostratigraphy. The ICS now provides an online, interactive, version of this chart too, https://stratigraphy.org/timescale/, based on a service delivering a machine-readable Resource Description Framework/Web Ontology Language representation of the timescale which is available through the Commission for the Management and Application of Geoscience Information GeoSciML project as a service and at a SPARQL end-point. This is not to scale, and even though the Phanerozoic eon looks longer than the rest, it merely spans 500 million years, whilst the previous three eons (or the Precambrian supereon) collectively span over 3.5 billion years. This discrepancy is caused by the lack of action in the first three eons (or supereon) compared to the current eon (the Phanerozoic).

Proposed Precambrian timeline

The ICS's ''Geologic Time Scale 2012'' book which includes the new approved time scale also displays a proposal to substantially revise the Precambrian time scale to reflect important events such as the formation of the Earth or the Great Oxidation Event, among others, while at the same time maintaining most of the previous chronostratigraphic nomenclature for the pertinent time span. (See also Period (geology)#Structure.) *Hadean Eon – 4600–4031 Ma **Chaotian Era – 4600–4404 Ma – the name alluding both to the mythological Chaos and the chaotic phase of planet formation **Jack Hillsian or Zirconian Era – 4404–4031 Ma – both names allude to the Jack Hills Greenstone Belt which provided the oldest mineral grains on Earth, zircons *Archean Eon – 4031–2420 Ma **Paleoarchean Era – 4031–3490 Ma ***Acastan Period – 4031–3810 Ma – named after the Acasta Gneiss ***Isuan Period – 3810–3490 Ma – named after the Isua Greenstone Belt **Mesoarchean Era – 3490–2780 Ma ***Vaalbaran Period – 3490–3020 Ma – based on the names of the Kapvaal (Southern Africa) and Pilbara (Western Australia) cratons ***Pongolan Period – 3020–2780 Ma – named after the Pongola Supergroup **Neoarchean Era – 2780–2420 Ma ***Methanian Period – 2780–2630 Ma – named for the inferred predominance of methanotrophic prokaryotes ***Siderian Period – 2630–2420 Ma – named for the voluminous banded iron formations formed within its duration *Proterozoic Eon – 2420–541 Ma **Paleoproterozoic Era – 2420–1780 Ma ***Oxygenian Period – 2420–2250 Ma – named for displaying the first evidence for a global oxidizing atmosphere ***Jatulian or Eukaryian Period – 2250–2060 Ma – names are respectively for the Lomagundi–Jatuli δ13C isotopic excursion event spanning its duration, and for the (proposed) first fossil appearance of eukaryotes ***Columbian Period – 2060–1780 Ma – named after the supercontinent Columbia **Mesoproterozoic Era – 1780–850 Ma ***Rodinian Period – 1780–850 Ma – named after the supercontinent Rodinia, stable environment **Neoproterozoic Era – 850–541 Ma ***Cryogenian Period – 850–630 Ma – named for the occurrence of several glaciations ***Ediacaran Period – 630–541 Ma Shown to scale: ImageSize = width:1100 height:120 PlotArea = left:65 right:15 bottom:20 top:5 AlignBars = justify Colors = id:precambrian value:rgb(0.968,0.262,0.439) id:proterozoic value:rgb(0.968,0.207,0.388) id:neoproterozoic value:rgb(0.996,0.701,0.258) id:ediacaran value:rgb(0.996,0.85,0.415) id:cryogenian value:rgb(0.996,0.8,0.36) id:tonian value:rgb(0.996,0.75,0.305) id:mesoproterozoic value:rgb(0.996,0.705,0.384) id:rodinian value:rgb(0.996,0.75,0.478) id:paleoproterozoic value:rgb(0.968,0.263,0.44) id:columbian value:rgb(0.968,0.459,0.655) id:eukaryian value:rgb(0.968,0.408,0.596) id:oxygenian value:rgb(0.968,0.357,0.537) id:archean value:rgb(0.996,0.157,0.498) id:neoarchean value:rgb(0.976,0.608,0.757) id:siderian value:rgb(0.976,0.7,0.85) id:methanian value:rgb(0.976,0.65,0.8) id:mesoarchean value:rgb(0.968,0.408,0.662) id:pongolan value:rgb(0.968,0.5,0.75) id:vaalbaran value:rgb(0.968,0.45,0.7) id:paleoarchean value:rgb(0.96,0.266,0.624) id:isuan value:rgb(0.96,0.35,0.65) id:acastan value:rgb(0.96,0.3,0.6) id:hadean value:rgb(0.717,0,0.494) id:zirconian value:rgb(0.902,0.114,0.549) id:chaotian value:rgb(0.8,0.05,0.5) id:black value:black id:white value:white Period = from:-4600 till:-541 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:500 start:-4500 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:100 start:-4500 Define $markred = text:"*" textcolor:red shift:(0,3) fontsize:10 PlotData= align:center textcolor:black fontsize:8 mark:(line,black) width:25 shift:(0,-5) bar:supereon from: start till: -541 text:Precambrian color:precambrian bar:eon from: -2420 till: -541 text:Proterozoic color:proterozoic from: -4031 till: -2420 text:Archean color:archean from: start till: -4031 text:Hadean color:hadean bar:era from: -850 till: -541 text:Neoproterozoic color:neoproterozoic from: -1780 till: -850 text:Mesoproterozoic color:mesoproterozoic from: -2420 till: -1780 text:Paleoproterozoic color:paleoproterozoic from: -2780 till: -2420 text:Neoarchean color:neoarchean from: -3490 till: -2780 text:Mesoarchean color:mesoarchean from: -4031 till: -3490 text:Paleoarchean color:paleoarchean from: -4404 till: -4031 text:Zirconian color:zirconian from: start till: -4404 text:Chaotian color:chaotian bar:period fontsize:6 from: -630 till: -541 text:Ed. color:ediacaran from: -850 till: -630 text:Cryogenian color:cryogenian from: -1780 till: -850 text:Rodinian color:rodinian from: -2060 till: -1780 text:Columbian color:columbian from: -2250 till: -2060 text:Eukaryian color:eukaryian from: -2420 till: -2250 text:Oxygenian color:oxygenian from: -2630 till: -2420 text:Siderian color:siderian from: -2780 till: -2630 text:Methanian color:methanian from: -3020 till: -2780 text:Pongolan color:pongolan from: -3490 till: -3020 text:Vaalbaran color:vaalbaran from: -3810 till: -3490 text:Isuan color:isuan from: -4031 till: -3810 text:Acastan color:acastan from: start till: -4031 color:white Compare with the current official timeline, not shown to scale: ImageSize = width:1100 height:120 PlotArea = left:65 right:15 bottom:20 top:5 AlignBars = justify Colors = id:precambrian value:rgb(0.968,0.262,0.439) id:proterozoic value:rgb(0.968,0.207,0.388) id:neoproterozoic value:rgb(0.996,0.701,0.258) id:ediacaran value:rgb(0.996,0.85,0.415) id:cryogenian value:rgb(0.996,0.8,0.36) id:tonian value:rgb(0.996,0.75,0.305) id:mesoproterozoic value:rgb(0.996,0.705,0.384) id:stenian value:rgb(0.996,0.85,0.604) id:ectasian value:rgb(0.996,0.8,0.541) id:calymmian value:rgb(0.996,0.75,0.478) id:paleoproterozoic value:rgb(0.968,0.263,0.44) id:statherian value:rgb(0.968,0.459,0.655) id:orosirian value:rgb(0.968,0.408,0.596) id:rhyacian value:rgb(0.968,0.357,0.537) id:siderian value:rgb(0.968,0.306,0.478) id:archean value:rgb(0.996,0.157,0.498) id:neoarchean value:rgb(0.976,0.608,0.757) id:mesoarchean value:rgb(0.968,0.408,0.662) id:paleoarchean value:rgb(0.96,0.266,0.624) id:eoarchean value:rgb(0.902,0.114,0.549) id:hadean value:rgb(0.717,0,0.494) id:black value:black id:white value:white Period = from:-4600 till:-541 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:500 start:-4500 ScaleMinor = unit:year increment:100 start:-4500 Define $markred = text:"*" textcolor:red shift:(0,3) fontsize:10 PlotData= align:center textcolor:black fontsize:8 mark:(line,black) width:25 shift:(0,-5) bar:supereon from: start till: -541 text:Precambrian color:precambrian bar:eon from: -2500 till: -541 text:Proterozoic color:proterozoic from: -4031 till: -2500 text:Archean color:archean from: start till: -4031 text:Hadean color:hadean bar:era from: -1000 till: -541 text:Neoproterozoic color:neoproterozoic from: -1600 till: -1000 text:Mesoproterozoic color:mesoproterozoic from: -2500 till: -1600 text:Paleoproterozoic color:paleoproterozoic from: -2800 till: -2500 text:Neoarchean color:neoarchean from: -3200 till: -2800 text:Mesoarchean color:mesoarchean from: -3600 till: -3200 text:Paleoarchean color:paleoarchean from: -4031 till: -3600 text:Eoarchean color:eoarchean from: start till: -4031 color:white bar:period fontsize:6 from: -635 till: -541 text:Ed. color:ediacaran from: -720 till: -635 text:Cr. color:cryogenian from: -1000 till: -720 text:Tonian color:tonian from: -1200 till: -1000 text:Stenian color:stenian from: -1400 till: -1200 text:Ectasian color:ectasian from: -1600 till: -1400 text:Calymmian color:calymmian from: -1800 till: -1600 text:Statherian color:statherian from: -2050 till: -1800 text:Orosirian color:orosirian from: -2300 till: -2050 text:Rhyacian color:rhyacian from: -2500 till: -2300 text:Siderian color:siderian from: start till: -2500 color:white

See also

* Age of the Earth * Bubnoff unit * Cosmic calendar * Deep time * Evolutionary history of life * Geological history of Earth * Geology of Mars/areology * Geon * Graphical timeline of the universe * History of the Earth * History of geology * History of paleontology * List of fossil sites * Logarithmic timeline * Lunar geologic timescale * Martian geologic timescale * Natural history * New Zealand geologic time scale * Prehistoric life * Timeline of the Big Bang * Timeline of evolution * Timeline of the geologic history of the United States * Timeline of human evolution * Timeline of natural history * Timeline of paleontology


Notes





References




Further reading

* * * * * * * * *

External links


International Chronostratigraphic Chart (interactive)

International Chronostratigraphic Chart (v 2020/03)

Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points



GSA: Geologic Time Scale



GeoWhen Database



SeeGrid: Geological Time Systems
Information model for the geologic time scale
Exploring Time
from Planck Time to the lifespan of the universe
Episodes
Gradstein, Felix M. et al. (2004) ''A new Geologic Time Scale, with special reference to Precambrian and Neogene'', Episodes, Vol. 27, no. 2 June 2004 (pdf) * Lane, Alfred C, and Marble, John Putman 1937
Report of the Committee on the measurement of geologic time



Deep Time – A History of the Earth : Interactive InfographicGeology earthscience - geologic time scale with events
{{Authority control + Category:Geochronology Timescale Category:Articles which contain graphical timelines Category:International Commission on Stratigraphy geologic time scale of Earth