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2003 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  JUL 2002 – JUN 2003

The Late Ordovician Glaciation and Mass Extinction: Environmental Causes and Evolutionary Consequences - Mark Patzkowsky

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3 Teams
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Project Progress

In the last year, our group made significant progress in understanding the environmental causes of the Late Ordovician glaciation and in understanding the evolutionary consequences of the Late Ordovician mass extinction. Using atmosphere and ocean general circulation models and a dynamic ice-sheet model, we found that pCO2 must have been no higher than 8 times pre-industrial atmospheric levels in order to initiate ice-sheet growth in the Late Ordovician. Furthermore, paleogeographic changes, sea level, and poleward ocean heat transport played an important role in priming the Late Ordovician climate system for glaciation. Most significantly, we found that when obliquity forcing was added to the dynamic ice-sheet model to simulate Late Ordovician glaciation, pCO2 must drop to 8 times pre-industrial levels to initiate glaciation, but then CO2 must rise to above 10 times pre-industrial levels in order to melt the ice sheets. Such hysteresis effects may have played an important role in other glaciations in Earth history, such as the Snowball Earth. In investigating geographic variability in the Late Ordovician mass extinction, we performed a sample-standardized analysis (diversity estimates based on equal sized samples) of Late Ordovician through the Early Silurian diversity for the Laurentian paleocontinent. We found that diversity on Laurentia rebounded to pre-extinction levels within 5 million years, approximately 10 million years faster than global diversity rebounded. This suggests that the rebounds of regional and global diversity were decoupled following the Late Ordovician mass extinction, but it also raises the question whether sample standardization at the global level would show that global diversity also rebounded to pre-extinction levels in 5 million years.

    Mark Patzkowsky Mark Patzkowsky
    Achim Herrmann
    Doctoral Student

    Andrew Krug
    Doctoral Student

    Objective 4.3
    Effects of extraterrestrial events upon the biosphere