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SCIENCE CHINA Earth Sciences, Volume 60, Issue 1: 5-19(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11430-016-0095-9

Toward understanding Cretaceous climate—An updated review

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  • ReceivedJun 24, 2016
  • AcceptedAug 30, 2016
  • PublishedNov 22, 2016

Abstract

New data and ideas are changing our view of conditions during the Cretaceous. Paleotopography of the continents was lower than originally thought, eliminating the ‘cold continental interior paradox’ of fossils of plants that could not tolerate freezing occurring in regions indicated by climate models to be well below freezing in winter. The controversy over the height of Cretaceous sea levels has been resolved by knowledge of the effects of passage of the subducted slab of the Farallon Plate beneath the North American crust. The cause of shorter term sea level changes of the order of 30 to 50 meters is not because of growth and decay of ice sheets, but more likely the filling and release of water from groundwater reservoirs and lakes although there may have been some ice in the Early and latest Cretaceous. Carbon dioxide was not the only significant greenhouse gas; methane contributed significantly to the warmer climate. Suggestions of very warm tropical ocean temperatures (> 40°C) have implications for the nature of plant life on land limited by Rubisco activase. The land surfaces were much wetter than has been thought, with meandering rivers and many oxbow lakes providing habitat for large dinosaurs. A major rethinking of the nature of conditions on a warmer Earth is underway, and a new suite of paleoclimate simulations for the Cretaceous is needed.


Acknowledgment

The author has benefitted greatly from recent discussions with Robert DeConto, Brian Ford, Poppe de Boer, Hu Xumian, Wang Chengshan, Yu Enxio, Ying Song, Hugh Jenkyns, Andy Gale, Brad Sageman, Sascha Flögel, João Trabuco-Alexandre, Michael Wagreich, and Benjamin Sames. Suggestions by David J. Horne and an anonymous reviewer are gratefully acknowledged. This is a contribution in the frame of UNESCO IGCP Project 609 “Climate-environmental deteriorations during greenhouse phases: Causes and consequences of short-term Cretaceous sea-level changes”.


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  • Figure 1

    (a) Paleotopographic map for the early Turonian prepared by Alexander Balukhovsky and Areg Migdisov for numerical climate models described in Flögel (2001) and Balukhovsky et al. (2004). (b) A revised preliminary paleogeographic map for the early Turonian taking into account the recent work of Müller et al. (2008a, 2008b), Song et al. (2014, 2015) and others.

  • Figure 2

    Climate simulation for January, early Turonian After Flögel (2001).

  • Figure 3

    Estimates of the elevation of global (‘eustatic’) sea level above present sea level. The ‘+’ is the present elevation (265–286 m; avg.276 m) of the late Cenomanian shoreline (~93 Ma) on the eastern side of the Western Interior Seaway on the margin of the craton (Canadian Shield) in Minnesota, defined by McDonough and Cross (1991) and used by Sahagian and Holland (1991), Sahagian et al. (1996) and others as a calibration reference for the highest stand of Cretaceous sea levels.

  • Figure 4

    Transgressive-regressive sea level cycles and the quasi-eustatic sea level curve of Haq (2014) shown as solid lines. There are 59 cycles within the 80 Myr duration of the Cretaceous, yielding an average periodicity of 1.356 my. Dashed line is 30 m lower than the solid line, the difference that could easily accommodated by filling groundwater reservoirs and lakes; the dotted line is 50 m lower, probably the maximum difference that could be accommodated by filling groundwater reservoirs and lakes as suggested by Hay and Leslie (1990) and Wendler and Wendler (2016).

  • Figure 5

    A comparison of brachiosaurid sauropod dinosaurs, after a figure in Ford (2012b). (The original ‘Dinosaur Parade’ was prepared by Nima Sassani and is at http://paleoking.blogspot.com/2009/11/brachiosaurs-parade-90-million-years-of.html). Numbers are approximate ages. Most of these are known from incomplete skeletons that nevertheless allow reconstructions. Volkheimeria is Callovian-Oxfordian, from Patagonia. Lapparentosaurus is Mid-Jurassic from Madagascar. Daanosaurus is Late Jurassic, from Sichuan, China. Bothriospondylus is from the Kimmeridgian of southern England. Lusotitan is from the Tithonian of Portugal. Brachiosaurus is from the mid- to late Jurassic Formation of Colorado, U.S. The ‘Archbishop’ is a mid-Jurassic dinosaur from Tanzania, still awaiting formal description. Pelorosaurus is known from the Early Cretaceous of England and Portugal. Astrodon (also known as Pleurocoelus) is Aptian-Albian, from the Arundel Formation, eastern U.S. Cedarosaurus is from Barremian strata in Utah, U.S. Sonorasaurus is Albian to Cenomanian, from Arizona, U.S. Sauropposeidon is known from Aptian-Albian strata in Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, U.S. Brevparopus is known only from tracks in Cretaceous strata in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, but from the tracks it must be the largest of the brachiosaurids.

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