Catastrophes and Earth History

Catastrophes and Earth History: The New Uniformitarianism

WILLIAM A. BERGGREN
JOHN A. VAN COUVERING
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 478
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv4gv
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  • Book Info
    Catastrophes and Earth History
    Book Description:

    This book, based on papers from a symposium at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shows the necessity of developing a new philosophy in place of the classical uniformitarianism based only on processes familiar in human experience.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5328-1
    Subjects: Geology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-2)
    W. A. BERGGREN

    In June of 1974, the Graduate Education Program of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution sponsored a week-long symposium entitledOrganisms and Continents Through Time. The symposium was primarily organized for the sake of acquainting the graduate students at Woods Hole with current research in this area, and it was run in an informal manner so as to allow a maximum of exchange between speakers and audience. Some thirty invited speakers, supported by their published papers on related topics (a compendium was distributed to everyone in attendance) and by the guidance of moderator John A. Van Couvering, combined to make the...

  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-6)
    John A. Van Couvering

    The papers in this volume are intended to involve the reader in the current reappraisal of uniformitarianism that is radicalizing geology. We have not attempted to review the dialogue in every subdiscipline of earth history, because such a review would necessarily be little more than a piecemeal study of the momentum (some might say “inertia”) of specialist literature and tradition; nor have we sought for a unifying treatise on modern geohistorical philosophy, since such books as David B. Kitts’The Structure of Geology—which could be read as both an introduction and a conclusion to our book—already exist. Finally,...

  5. Part I THE CONCEPT OF CATASTROPHE AS A NATURAL AGENT
    • Chapter 1 TOWARD THE VINDICATION OF PUNCTUATIONAL CHANGE
      (pp. 9-34)
      STEPHEN JAY GOULD

      The sanctified writings of a profession are often among the most misunderstood, largely because so few people read them. Sir Charles Lyell’sPrinciples of Geology(1830–1833) rests prominently among such works. Most geologists revere it as a painstaking, scrupulously objective, empirical catalogue that established their calling by demonstrating the power of modern causes to explain all past results. In fact, it is a lawyer’s brief, ingeniously constructed to push a point by all means, most fair, but some foul. And it was written by a lawyer, for Lyell trained and qualified in the profession banned from Utopia by Saint...

    • Chapter 2 PERFECTION, CONTINUITY, AND COMMON SENSE IN HISTORICAL GEOLOGY
      (pp. 35-76)
      RICHARD H. BENSON

      This paper is about how most geologists—and paleontologists who are trained basically as geologists—regard the passage of events recorded in historical geology. It examines the difference between the analytical consequences of those who follow the style of the pragmatic essentialists (individuals such as George Cuvier, who sought the intrinsic order in nature by attempting to define its perfection and thereby concluded that there were interruptions in its historical succession) and the analytical consequences of those who follow the style of the gradualists (persons such as Charles Lyell, who believed in processes of development and in a balance between...

    • Chapter 3 REFLECTIONS ON THE “RARE EVENT” AND RELATED CONCEPTS IN GEOLOGY
      (pp. 77-90)
      PETER E. GRETENER

      The human lifespan is a poor yardstick by which to assess geological time spans. In particular, episodic events with a low frequency of occurrence tend to be neglected by this approach. “The present isthekey to the past” (italics mine) is a statement that reflects the arrogant attitude of the newcomer,Homo sapiens. Nobody will dispute the fact that the study of the present can reveal many important aspects of the past; but the above proverbial statement implies thateverythingabout the past can be learned from looking at the world around us. This is certainly not the case...

    • Chapter 4 THE STRATIGRAPHIC CODE AND WHAT IT IMPLIES
      (pp. 91-100)
      DEREK V. AGER

      When the above title was wished on me, the first thing I noted was that the adjective “stratigraphic” sounded so ugly in comparison to the equivalent in the Queen’s English, “stratigraphical.” I, therefore, presumed that “stratigraphic code” (sic) must mean the American (that is, the United States of America) code, which has also come to mean the “International Code” (Hedberg, 1972). The reports that are completed in this code cover every shade of opinion, every method, and every approach; but, nevertheless, they accept the presumption that there is, basically, a holy trinity of stratigraphy: lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, and chronostratigraphy. The British...

    • Chapter 5 STATISTICAL SEDIMENTATION AND MAGNETIC POLARITY STRATIGRAPHY
      (pp. 101-112)
      CHARLES R. DENHAM

      Magnetic polarity zonation is now being widely used in the study of fossil vertebrate chronology within continental sedimentary deposits (for example, Johnson et al., 1975; Butler et al., 1977). Hiatuses and variable rates of sediment accumulation can easily disrupt the expected magnetic polarity pattern and lead to either uncertain or invalid stratigraphic correlations. In the study of continental sediments, statistical sedimentation is a concept that can usefully provide insights into the resolution of the magnetostratigraphic/biostratigraphic method.

      We will describe in statistical terms the meaning of a record in which fewer polarity intervals are observed than were expected. We assume the...

  6. Part II THE CRETACEOUS/TERTIARY BOUNDARY:: A CASE IN POINT
    • Chapter 6 MASS EXTINCTION: UNIQUE OR RECURRENT CAUSES?
      (pp. 115-128)
      NORMAN D. NEWELL

      Extinction is a normal and continuing aspect of competition and replacement in organism communities; hence, it must be regarded as an essential component of organic evolution.¹ However, the world demise of ecologically diverse members of a biota—such as the extinctions toward the end of the Cretaceous period—naturally calls to mind some overriding external environmental agent, since purely biological factors—such as disease or accumulations of lethal genes—are not likely to affect in concert a whole assemblage of organisms.

      An influx of immigrants can decimate a native fauna in a brief span of time (as happened, for example,...

    • Chapter 7 THE TWO PHANEROZOIC SUPERCYCLES
      (pp. 129-150)
      ALFRED G. FISCHER

      The philosophy of historical geology, swept 150 years ago by Lyell’s actuocentric viewpoint, has since then undergone a progressive change: in one field of geology after another, an explanation of individual geological events on an “actualistic” basis adds up to a history in which the outer earth has deviated markedly in state and behavior from the one in which we live—a state which cannot be considered a norm. While most of these changes are of the gradual type, the occurrence of global catastrophes is now also supported by theory and data.

      The proposition advanced in this paper is that...

    • Chapter 8 THE FABRIC OF CRETACEOUS MARINE EXTINCTIONS
      (pp. 151-246)
      ERLE G. KAUFFMAN

      The “mass extinction” event at the end of the Cretaceous period is widely regarded as having been a biological catastrophe that involved the near-synchronous global annihilation of the structurally and ecologically diverse taxa which characterized Mesozoic biotas (see, for example, Newell, 1967). This image of the event has been enhanced by a widespread Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary disconformity, as well as by representations of this extinction in simple graphic plots that make use of unweighted lines, representing major groups, which extend to—but not across—the depicted boundary (for example, see Schindewolf, 1962; also Figure 8–1A). The reptiles, ammonites, rudist and...

    • Chapter 9 CAMPANIAN THROUGH PALEOCENE PALEOTEMPERATURE AND CARBON ISOTOPE SEQUENCE AND THE CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY BOUNDARY IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
      (pp. 247-278)
      ANNE BOERSMA

      The extinctions and physical-oceanographic phenomena at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary have elicited a vast number of astute observations from scientists for half a century. The accumulated literature documenting faunal changes among dinosaurs (Russell, 1975), marine invertebrates (Kauffman, 1973), larger foraminifera (Dilley, 1973), benthonic foraminifera (Beckman, 1960), planktonic foraminifera (Rosenkrantz and Brotzen, 1960), and marine floras (Tappan and Loeblich, 1971; Harker and Sarjeant, 1975; Percival and Fischer, 1977) complements the work on geology and tectonics which shows extensive paraconformities (Gignoux, 1950; Newell, 1963) and hiatuses in the deep sea record (Worsley, 1974) along with an extensive and rapid regression (Termier and Termier,...

    • Chapter 10 CHANGES IN THE ANGIOSPERM FLORA ACROSS THE CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY BOUNDARY
      (pp. 279-314)
      LEO J. HICKEY

      Recent hypotheses have proposed that a universal biotic catastrophe caused by an asteroid impact (Alvarez, W. et al., 1979; Alvarez, L. W. et al., 1980a, b; Smit and Hertogen, 1980; Gagnapathy, 1980), a cometary impact (Hsü, 1980), or a supernova (Russell and Tucker, 1971) terminated the Cretaceous period. Paleontology is severely limited in its ability to specify the causes of the Cretaceous extinctions that so dramatically affected the dinosaurs and numerous groups of marine organisms because it can only infer the operative forces from their effects on the biota. If the observed effects are drastic and cut across taxonomic and...

    • Chapter 11 PALYNOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR CHANGE IN CONTINENTAL FLORAS AT THE CRETACEOUS TERTIARY BOUNDARY
      (pp. 315-338)
      ROBERT H. TSCHUDY

      The greater part of the evidence supporting a drastic and widespread terminal extinction at the end of the Cretaceous is from the marine realm. If indeed a catastrophic change did occur, the record from continental deposits would have coincided in severity with that from the marine record. Pollen and spores are widely disseminated by wind and water, are extremely abundant and diverse (often thousands of grains per gram of rock) and well-preserved in many continental rocks. Thus they can provide the most abundant and perhaps the most reliable source of evidence for change in the land plant biota at the...

    • Chapter 12 MAMMAL EVOLUTION NEAR THE CRETACEOUS-TERTIARY BOUNDARY
      (pp. 339-372)
      J. DAVID ARCHIBALD and WILLIAM A. CLEMENS

      Since their discovery and recognition, dinosaurs have been viewed with fascination by laymen and scientists alike. Not the least of this fascination has been the proposed hypotheses for the causes of their extinction. Contemporaries of the dinosaurs, such as mammals, have understandably not been viewed with such wonderment. Explanations are not hard to find. Dinosaurs, mistakenly or not, seem so alien to us when compared with our modern mammalian dominated terrestrial biota, and their supposedly geologically instantaneous disappearance enhances this perception. In contrast, the diminutive mammals did not die out with the passing of the Mesozoic, but rather underwent an...

    • Chapter 13 TERMINAL CRETACEOUS EXTINCTIONS OF LARGE REPTILES
      (pp. 373-384)
      DALE A. RUSSELL

      Reptiles of unusual size, by modern standards, inhabited the seas, lands, and skies of our planet during the Mesozoic Era. As we have grown more familiar with the development of the great reptiles through Cretaceous time, so has our evolutionary sophistication and our deepened interest in the enigma of their sudden disappearance. It seems that nothing in their history prior to the end of the Cretaceous presaged their imminent extinction. The fossil record of the great reptiles as it pertains to the problem of their disappearance, is briefly reviewed in the first part of this presentation. Few would deny that...

  7. Part III CATASTROPHIC PROCESSES IN THE GEOLOGICAL RECORD
    • Chapter 14 LOW SEA LEVELS, DROUGHTS, AND MAMMALIAN EXTINCTIONS
      (pp. 387-394)
      NILS-AXEL MÖRNER

      Cenozoic periods of drastic environmental changes and mammalian extinctions have been documented. Two major periods of changes are recognized: one beginning with the Eocene-Oligocene boundary at about 37 myr and one in the Late Miocene (Messinian) at about 5 to 6 myr. Both these periods were found to have corresponded with major sea level regressions.

      These changes, however, must have been caused by mechanisms that were quite different from those of the Late Cenozoic that were caused by major global climatic changes of a fairly short duration. One of the best examples may be the 10,000-BP change in global climate...

    • Chapter 15 EUSTASY, GEOID CHANGES, AND MULTIPLE GEOPHYSICAL INTERACTION
      (pp. 395-416)
      NILS-AXEL MÖRNER

      The effects on eustasy of geoidal changes have been discussed by Mörner (1975, 1976, 1977a, 1977b, 1979a), Reyment and Mörner (1977) and Newman and others (1977, 1979). The effects on eustasy of glacial mass attraction of water and of the visco-elastic response of the earth to deglaciation have been discussed by Clark (1976), Farrell and Clark (1976) and Clark and others (1978). This has made the cause and nature of ocean level changes complicated, and has called for a redefinition of the old concept of “eustasy” (Mörner, 1976).

      First, two metaphors will explain the new situation:

      1) The oceans can...

    • Chapter 16 ON TWO KINDS OF RAPID FAUNAL TURNOVER
      (pp. 417-436)
      S. DAVID WEBB

      From a paleontological vantage point, faunal change appears to proceed in two modes: one gradual, the other one rapid or even cataclysmic. In the gradual mode, biotic diversity remains essentially constant, and the evolutionary rates of included species are mainly horotelic or bradytelic. At times, however, this stately mode is disturbed. Then, over relatively short periods of time, major restructuring of whole biotas and tachytelic evolution of diverse taxa occur. These are the two modes to which Derek Ager’s (1973) stratigraphic simile aptly refers: “The history of any one part of the earth, like the life of a soldier, consists...

    • Chapter 17 THE PHANEROZOIC “CRISIS” AS VIEWED FROM THE MIOCENE
      (pp. 437-446)
      RICHARD H. BENSON

      A crisis is an event in the history of a system when stress, usually originating externally, causes the alteration of its principle structures to be imminent; and through the absorption of this stress into the subsystems, the system survives (see Benson, Chapter 2, this volume). It becomes catastrophic when deformation of the reaction pathways of the subsystem forces new arrangements to be formed suddenly. The old system collapses and is replaced by a new one composed of this new arrangement. A cataclysm is the total destruction of the system and the subsystems. Replacement, if it takes place, is from somewhere...

  8. Part IV CATASTROPHES AND THE REAL WORLD
    • Chapter 18 MARINE MINERAL RESOURCES AND UNIFORMITARIANISM
      (pp. 449-464)
      KENNETH O. EMERY

      James Hutton introduced the concept of uniformitarianism near the end of the eighteenth cenntury in his “Theory of the Earth.” He included such statements as: Earth phenomena should be explicable by powers that accord with the earth’s composition and are natural to it, and whose principles are known—with no appeal to extraordinary events. The processes must be consistent with the propagation of plants and animals.

      Hutton’s preoccupation with the importance of animals as the objective of geological processes would not now be accepted, especially in view of the absence of animals on other planets of the solar system. Hutton...

  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 465-465)