The Cretaceous period is a division of earth’s history spanning from around 145 to 66 million years ago, and during which enormous deposits of Chalk were formed across Europe. The Cretaceous was a warm period with temperatures on average 4°C above present. Sea levels gradually rose through the Cretaceous; attaining a maximum of around 200 meters above the present level, and resulting in the formation of shallow seas as large areas of the continents became flooded. During the Cretaceous the supercontinents of Laurasia and Gondwana continued to break up; opening the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. In the oceans, teleosts, a major group of bony fish, began to flourish along with modern sharks and rays. Diatoms, a group of planktonic algae, also began to diversify. On land the first true mammals and birds evolved while dinosaurs remained dominant. A major floral revolution took place during the Cretaceous with the emergence and gradual diversification of flowering plants. The end of the Cretaceous is marked by one of the most catastrophic extinctions in earth’s history. Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ammonites, belemnites, rudist bivalves and many groups of marine reptiles were among those wiped out. An Iridium rich layer found globally at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary, along with a vast impact crater in Mexico, lead many to believe that a meteor was responsible for the end Cretaceous extinction. However, massive volcanism in India, contemporaneous with the extinction, may also have been a contributing factor.
Published on March 1st, 2013 | by David Marshall
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