National Academies Press: OpenBook

Effects of Past Global Change on Life (1995)


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Suggested Citation:"ABSTRACT." National Research Council. 1995. Effects of Past Global Change on Life. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4762.
Page 72

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CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY (K/T) MASS EXTINCTION: EFFECT OF GLOBAL CHANGE ON CALCAREOUS 72 MICROPLANKTON 4 Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) Mass Extinction: Effect of Global Change on Calcareous Microplankton Gerta Keller Princeton University Katharina V. Salis Perch-Nielsen Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ABSTRACT The effects of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) boundary global change on calcareous nannoplankton and planktic foraminifera are most severe in low latitudes and negligible in high latitudes. In low latitudes, species extinctions are complex and prolonged beginning during the final 100,000 to 300,000 yr of the Cretaceous, accelerating across the K/T boundary, and reaching maximum negative conditions between 10,000 and 40,000 yr into the Tertiary accompanied by low primary productivity. In high latitudes, no significant species extinctions occurred at or near the K/T boundary, and all dominant species thrived well into the early Tertiary. Return to a more stable ecosystem and to increased marine productivity in low latitudes does not occur until about 250,000 to 350,000 yr after the K/T boundary, coincident with the extinction of Cretaceous survivors in high latitudes. Within this transition interval, habitats of deep- and intermediate-dwelling tropical planktic foraminiferal species are gradually and selectively eliminated in low latitudes, and by K/T boundary time only cosmopolitan surface dwellers survive. This implies the disruption of the water-mass structure, change in the thermocline, and a drop in surface productivity. Although no single cause is likely to account for these different prolonged and dramatic faunal and environmental changes between low and high latitudes, long-term oceanic instability associated with sea-level, temperature, salinity, and productivity fluctuations may account for most of the faunal changes observed in planktic foraminifera. However, other environmental changes (e.g., volcanism, bolide impact) may have accelerated the demise of the low latitude Cretaceous fauna already on the decline.

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What can we expect as global change progresses? Will there be thresholds that trigger sudden shifts in environmental conditions—or that cause catastrophic destruction of life?

Effects of Past Global Change on Life explores what earth scientists are learning about the impact of large-scale environmental changes on ancient life—and how these findings may help us resolve today's environmental controversies.

Leading authorities discuss historical climate trends and what can be learned from the mass extinctions and other critical periods about the rise and fall of plant and animal species in response to global change. The volume develops a picture of how environmental change has closed some evolutionary doors while opening others—including profound effects on the early members of the human family.

An expert panel offers specific recommendations on expanding research and improving investigative tools—and targets historical periods and geological and biological patterns with the most promise of shedding light on future developments.

This readable and informative book will be of special interest to professionals in the earth sciences and the environmental community as well as concerned policymakers.

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