Pennsylvanian (geology)

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The Pennsylvanian (/ˌpɛn.səlˈvn.jən, -sɪl-,ən/ pen-səl-VAYN-yən, -⁠sil-, -⁠VAY-nee-ən,[4] also known as Upper Carboniferous or Late Carboniferous) is, in the ICS geologic timescale, the younger of two subperiods (or upper of two subsystems) of the Carboniferous Period. It lasted from roughly 323.2 million years ago to 298.9 million years ago. As with most other geochronologic units, the rock beds that define the Pennsylvanian are well identified, but the exact date of the start and end are uncertain by a few hundred thousand years. The Pennsylvanian is named after the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, where the coal-productive beds of this age are widespread.[5]

323.2 ± 0.4 – 298.9 ± 0.15 Ma
Name formalityFormal
Usage information
Celestial bodyEarth
Regional usageGlobal (ICS)
Time scale(s) usedICS Time Scale
Chronological unitSubperiod
Time span formalityFormal
Lower boundary definitionFirst appearance of the Conodont Declinognathodus nodiliferus.
Lower boundary GSSPArrow Canyon, Nevada, United States
36°44′00″N 114°46′40″W / 36.7333°N 114.7778°W / 36.7333; -114.7778
GSSP ratified1996[2]
Upper boundary definitionFirst appearance of the Conodont Streptognathodus isolatus within the morphotype Streptognathodus wabaunsensis chronocline.
Upper boundary GSSPAidaralash, Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan
50°14′45″N 57°53′29″E / 50.2458°N 57.8914°E / 50.2458; 57.8914
GSSP ratified1996[3]

The division between Pennsylvanian and Mississippian comes from North American stratigraphy. In North America, where the early Carboniferous beds are primarily marine limestones, the Pennsylvanian was in the past treated as a full-fledged geologic period between the Mississippian and the Permian. In Europe, the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian are one more-or-less continuous sequence of lowland continental deposits and are grouped together as the Carboniferous Period. The current internationally used geologic timescale of the ICS gives the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian the rank of subperiods, subdivisions of the Carboniferous Period.


Generalized geographic map of the United States in middle Pennsylvanian time


All modern classes of fungi have been found in rocks of Pennsylvanian age.[6]


Amphibians were diverse and common; some were several meters long as adults. The collapse of the rainforest ecology in the mid-Pennsylvanian (between the Moscovian and the Kasimovian) removed many amphibian species that did not survive as well in the cooler, drier conditions. Reptiles, however, prospered due to specific key adaptations.[7] One of the greatest evolutionary innovations of the Carboniferous was the amniote egg, which allowed for the further exploitation of the land by certain tetrapods. These included the earliest sauropsid reptiles (Hylonomus), and the earliest known synapsid (Archaeothyris). Small lizard-like animals quickly gave rise to many descendants. Reptiles underwent a major evolutionary radiation, in response to the drier climate that followed the rainforest collapse.[7][8]


The major forms of life at this time were the arthropods. Due to the high levels of oxygen, arthropods were far larger than modern ones. Arthropleura, a giant millipede relative, was a common sight and the giant dragonfly Meganeura "flew the skies".[9]


The Pennsylvanian has been variously subdivided. The international timescale of the ICS follows the Russian subdivision into four stages:[10]

North American subdivision is into five stages, but not precisely the same, with additional (older) Appalachian series names following:[11][12]

The Virgilian or Conemaugh corresponds to the Gzhelian plus the uppermost Kasimovian. The Missourian or Monongahela corresponds to the rest of the Kasimovian. The Desmoinesian or Allegheny corresponds to the upper half of the Moscovian. The Atokan or upper Pottsville corresponds to the lower half of the Moscovian. The Morrowan corresponds to the Bashkirian.

In the European subdivision, the Carboniferous is divided into two epochs: Dinantian (early) and Silesian (late). The Silesian starts earlier than the Pennsylvanian and is divided in three ages:[13]


  1. ^ "Chart/Time Scale". International Commission on Stratigraphy.
  2. ^ Lane, H.; Brenckle, Paul; Baesemann, J.; Richards, Barry (December 1999). "The IUGS boundary in the middle of the Carboniferous: Arrow Canyon, Nevada, USA" (PDF). 22: 272–283. Retrieved December 8, 2020. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Davydov, Vladimir; Glenister, Brian; Spinosa, Claude; Ritter, Scott; Chernykh, V.; Wardlaw, B.; Snyder, W. (March 1998). "Proposal of Aidaralash as Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for base of the Permian System" (PDF). Episodes. 21: 11–18. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Pennsylvanian". Unabridged. Random House.
  5. ^ Gradstein, Felix M.; James G. Ogg; Alan G. Smith (2005). A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge University Press. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-521-78673-7.
  6. ^ Blackwell, Meredith, Vilgalys, Rytas, James, Timothy Y., and Taylor, John W. Fungi. Eumycota: mushrooms, sac fungi, yeast, molds, rusts, smuts, etc., February 2008, Tree of Life Web Project
  7. ^ a b Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. & Falcon-Lang, H.J. (2010). "Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetrapod diversification in Euramerica". Geology. 38 (12): 1079–1082. doi:10.1130/G31182.1.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Kazlev MA (1998). "Palaeos Paleozoic: Carboniferous: The Carboniferous Period". Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  9. ^ Paul D. Taylor, David N. Lewis (2005). Fossil Invertebrates. The Natural History Museum; First North American edition. p. 160. ISBN 0565091832.
  10. ^ Cohen et al. 2013
  11. ^ Rice, Charles L. "Pennsylvanian system". Contributions to the geology of Kentucky. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Kues, Barry S. (November 2001). "The Pennsylvanian System in New Mexico— overview with suggestions for revision of stratigraphic nomenclature" (PDF). New Mexico Geology: 103–122. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  13. ^ Heckel, P.H.; Clayton, G. (2006). "Informació: Discussió (0) Estadístiques d'ús Cita bibliogràfica -- Enllaç permanent: Google Scholar: cites The Carboniferous System. Use of the new official names for the subsystems, series, and stages" (PDF). Geologica Acta. 4 (3): 403–407. doi:10.1344/105.000000354. Retrieved October 26, 2020. External link in |title= (help)

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