Neoproterozoic

Neoproterozoic

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The Neoproterozoic Era is the unit of geologic time
Geologic time scale
The geologic time scale provides a system of chronologic measurement relating stratigraphy to time that is used by geologists, paleontologists and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the history of the Earth...

 from 1,000 to 542.0 ± 1.0 million years ago. The terminal Era of the formal Proterozoic
Proterozoic
The Proterozoic is a geological eon representing a period before the first abundant complex life on Earth. The name Proterozoic comes from the Greek "earlier life"...

 Eon (or the informal "Precambrian
Precambrian
The Precambrian is the name which describes the large span of time in Earth's history before the current Phanerozoic Eon, and is a Supereon divided into several eons of the geologic time scale...

"), it is further subdivided into the Tonian
Tonian
The Tonian is the first geologic period in the Neoproterozoic Era and lasted from 1000 Mya to 850 Mya...

, Cryogenian
Cryogenian
The Cryogenian is a geologic period that lasted from . It forms the second geologic period of the Neoproterozoic Era, preceded by the Tonian Period and followed by the Ediacaran...

, and Ediacaran
Ediacaran
The Ediacaran Period , named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period, the first period of the Paleozoic Era and of the Phanerozoic Eon...

 Periods. The most severe glaciation known in the geologic record occurred during the Cryogenian, when ice sheets reached the equator
Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

 and formed a possible "Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
The Snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, some time earlier than 650 Ma . Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical...

". The earliest fossils of multicellular life are found in the Ediacaran
Ediacaran
The Ediacaran Period , named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period, the first period of the Paleozoic Era and of the Phanerozoic Eon...

, including the earliest animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s.

Geology


At the onset of the Neoproterozoic the supercontinent Rodinia
Rodinia
In geology, Rodinia is the name of a supercontinent, a continent which contained most or all of Earth's landmass. According to plate tectonic reconstructions, Rodinia existed between 1.1 billion and 750 million years ago, in the Neoproterozoic era...

, which had assembled during the late Mesoproterozoic
Mesoproterozoic
The Mesoproterozoic Era is a geologic era that occurred between 1600 Ma and 1000 Ma . The Mesoproterozoic was the first period of Earth's history with a respectable geological record. Continents existed in the Paleoproterozoic, but we know little about them...

, straddled the equator. During the Tonian
Tonian
The Tonian is the first geologic period in the Neoproterozoic Era and lasted from 1000 Mya to 850 Mya...

, rifting commenced which broke Rodinia into a number of individual land masses. Possibly as a consequence of the low-latitude position of most continents, several large-scale glacial events occurred during the Era including the Sturtian and Marinoan glaciations. These glaciations are believed to have been so severe that there were ice sheets at the equator—a state known as the "Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
The Snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, some time earlier than 650 Ma . Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical...

".

Subdivisions


The Russians divide the Siberian Neoproterozoic into the Baikalian from 850 to 650Ma (loosely equivalent to the Cryogenian
Cryogenian
The Cryogenian is a geologic period that lasted from . It forms the second geologic period of the Neoproterozoic Era, preceded by the Tonian Period and followed by the Ediacaran...

), which overlies the Mayanian, from 1000 to 850Ma, then the Aimchanian.

Paleobiology


The idea of the Neoproterozoic Era came on the scene relatively recently — after about 1960. Nineteenth century paleontologists set the start of multicelled life at the first appearance of hard-shelled animals called trilobite
Trilobite
Trilobites are a well-known fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita. The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record defines the base of the Atdabanian stage of the Early Cambrian period , and they flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before...

s and archeocyathids
Archaeocyatha
The Archaeocyatha or archaeocyathids were sessile, reef-building marine organisms of warm tropical and subtropical waters that lived during the early Cambrian period. It is believed that the centre of the Archaeocyatha origin is in East Siberia, where they are first known from the beginning of...

. This set the beginning of the Cambrian
Cambrian
The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from Mya ; it is succeeded by the Ordovician. Its subdivisions, and indeed its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's...

 period. In the early 20th century, paleontologists started finding fossils of multicellular animals that predated the Cambrian boundary. A complex fauna was found in South West Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 in the 1920s but was misdated. Another was found in South Australia in the 1940s but was not thoroughly examined until the late 1950s. Other possible early fossils were found in Russia, England, Canada, and elsewhere (see Ediacaran biota). Some were determined to be pseudofossil
Pseudofossil
Pseudofossils are inorganic objects, markings, or impressions that might be mistaken for fossils. Pseudofossils may be misleading, as some types of mineral deposits can mimic lifeforms by forming what appear to be highly detailed or organized structures. One common example is when manganese oxides...

s, but others were revealed to be members of rather complex biotas that are still poorly understood. At least 25 regions worldwide yielded metazoan fossils prior to the classical Cambrian boundary.

A few of the early animals appear possibly to be ancestors of modern animals. Most fall into ambiguous groups of frond-like animals(?); discoids that might be holdfasts for stalked animals(?) ("medusoids"); mattress-like forms; small calcaerous tubes; and armored animals of unknown provenance. These were most commonly known as Vendian biota until the formal naming of the Period, and are currently known as Ediacaran biota. Most were soft bodied. The relationships, if any, to modern forms are obscure. Some paleontologists relate many or most of these forms to modern animals. Others acknowledge a few possible or even likely relationships but feel that most of the Ediacaran forms are representatives of unknown animal types.

In addition to Ediacaran biota, later two other types of biota were discovered in China (the so-called Doushantuo formation
Doushantuo Formation
The Doushantuo Formation is a Lagerstätte in Guizhou Province, China that is notable for being one of the oldest fossil beds to contain highly preserved fossils...

 and Hainan formation).

Terminal period


The nomenclature for the terminal period of the Neoproterozoic has been unstable. Russian geologists referred to the last period of the Neoproterozoic as the Vendian, and the Chinese called it the Sinian, and most Australians and North Americans used the name Ediacaran
Ediacaran
The Ediacaran Period , named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period, the first period of the Paleozoic Era and of the Phanerozoic Eon...

. However, in 2004, the International Union of Geological Sciences ratified the Ediacaran
Ediacaran
The Ediacaran Period , named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period, the first period of the Paleozoic Era and of the Phanerozoic Eon...

 age to be a geological age of the Neoproterozoic, ranging from 635 to 542.0 ± 1.0 million years ago. The Ediacaran boundaries are the only Precambrian boundaries defined by biologic Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point
Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point
A Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point, abbreviated GSSP, is an internationally agreed upon stratigraphic section which serves as the reference section for a particular boundary on the geologic time scale. The effort to define GSSPs is conducted by the International Commission on...

s, rather than the absolute Global Standard Stratigraphic Age
Global Standard Stratigraphic Age
In the stratigraphy sub-discipline of geology, a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age, officially abbreviated GSSA, is a chronological reference point and criterion in the world's rock records used to define the boundaries between different geological periods, epochs or ages on the overall geologic...

s.

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