Correlated terrestrial and marine evidence for global climate changes before mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary

Peter Wilf, Kirk R. Johnson, Brian T. Huber

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227 Scopus citations


Terrestrial climates near the time of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction are poorly known, limiting understanding of environmentally driven changes in biodiversity that occurred before bolide impact. We estimate paleotemperatures for the last ≈1.1 million years of the Cretaceous (≈66.6-65.5 million years ago, Ma) by using fossil plants from North Dakota and employ paleomagnetic stratigraphy to correlate the results to foraminiferal paleoclimatic data from four middle- and high-latitude sites. Both plants and foraminifera indicate warming near 66.0 Ma, a warming peak from ≈65.8 to 65.6 Ma, and cooling near 65.6 Ma, suggesting that these were global climate shifts. The warming peak coincides with the immigration of a thermophilic flora, maximum plant diversity, and the poleward range expansion of thermophilic foraminifera. Plant data indicate the continuation of relatively cool temperatures across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary; there is no indication of a major warming immediately after the boundary as previously reported. Our temperature proxies correspond well with recent pCO2 data from paleosol carbonate, suggesting a coupling of pCO2 and temperature. To the extent that biodiversity is correlated with temperature, estimates of the severity of end-Cretaceous extinctions that are based on occurrence data from the warming peak are probably inflated, as we illustrate for North Dakota plants. However, our analysis of climate and facies considerations shows that the effects of bolide impact should be regarded as the most significant contributor to these plant extinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-604
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 21 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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