Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Extreme depositional environments; mega end members in geologic time, Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States, Volume 370, p.209-230 (2003)




Anthozoa, Asia, biogenic structures, bioherms, carbonate platforms, Central Asia, China, Cnidaria, Coelenterata, Commonwealth of Independent States, Devonian, Eifelian, Emsian, epicontinental seas, Eurasia, Europe, Far East, Givetian, Gondwana, greenhouse effect, Invertebrata, Kazakhstan, Laurentia, Laurussia, Lower Devonian, microplates, Middle Devonian, modern analogs, North American Plate, paleoclimatology, paleoecology, paleogeography, paleotemperature, Paleozoic, passive margins, plate tectonics, Porifera, reef builders, reef environment, Russian Platform, sea-level changes, sedimentary structures, Siberia, Urals, Western Europe


A newly refined reef database, modified to calculate reef tracts in relation to major tectonic plates, and with new paleogeographic maps, indicates that the largest known, and latitudinally most widespread Phanerozoic reefs developed during the Middle Paleozoic (Siluro-Devonian), with an acme in the Middle Devonian. Expanding during times of exceptional sea-level highstands and widespread epicontinental shallow seas, this 26 m.y. long acme of coral-sponge reef growth coincided with the warmest global temperatures known for the Phanerozoic, i.e., with a "supergreenhouse" climate mode well above Holocene interglacial norms. During the Middle Paleozoic, reefs were particularly abundant, occupying large, continental seaboard, carbonate platforms, and vast inland epicontinental seas. Examples of such "extremes" occurred mostly on passive margin settings, and extensive flooded continental interiors, e.g., the 1700-3000 km long tracts of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, Canadian arctic (Innuitian platform), eastern Laurentia "Old Red Continent" (United Kingdom to Poland), eastern Russian Platform (northeast Laurentia), Ural "Fold Belt" (eastern slopes of Urals), Siberia, northwest Africa, and South China. Smaller scale reef belts between 700 and 1300 km long were constructed on isolated tectonic terranes facing Gondwana on the north (Pyrenees, Afghanistan-Pakistan), Mongolia, Kolyma-Chukot, and North China. Large basins and flooded shelf areas, and the reefs featured within them, were not persistently developed throughout the Middle Paleozoic. They especially characterized the middle Emsian through Givetian (late Early Devonian-Middle Devonian). The following Frasnian (Late Devonian) showed more restricted and confined distribution of coral-stromatoporoid reefs, and during the Famennian, coral-stromatoporoid reefs "crashed" and were replaced by calcimicrobial reefs and platforms. During the latter phases of the Frasnian/Famennian mass extinctions, such microbial reefs were confined to relatively small areas, and metazoan reefs were nearly entirely obliterated, being confined to rare stromatoporoid patch reefs or lithistid mounds. Coral reefs were completely absent during the 21 m.y. long Famennian interval, and no real recovery of "keystone" frame-building, colonial corals took place in reef settings. The Famennian coincided with repeated glaciations, sharp sea-surface cooling events, sea-level drawdowns, and concurrent, matching stable isotope excursions.


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