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Evidence for long-term climate change in Upper Devonian strata of the central Appalachians

January 1, 2009

The highest 1 to 200 m of the Upper Devonian (Famennian) Catskill and equivalent Hampshire formations exhibit a noticeable vertical or stratigraphic change in color and a shift in lithologic character. The lower part of the unit is characterized by typically red, channel-phase sandstones and overbank siltstone and mudstone containing thin calcareous paleosols. These lithologies give way to greenish gray sandstone containing abundant coaly plant fragments, coalified logs, and pyrite, interbedded with thick intervals of non-calcareous paleo-vertisols. The increase in the prominence of preserved terrestrial organic matter suggests that there was a corresponding increase in the abundance of plants in terrestrial ecosystems. The stratigraphic change in lithology within the upper part of the Catskill-Hampshire succession suggests the onset of environmental conditions that became increasingly wet in response to elevated humid climatic conditions during the final stages of Catskill alluvial plain deposition. The sedimentological signature suggesting increased climatic wetness within the uppermost Catskill and Hampshire formations is nearly contemporaneous with the initiation of Late Devonian Gondwanan glaciation in the paleo-high-latitudes. The Appalachian climate record indicates that this change began during the Fa2c and continued through the latest Famennian, reaching its peak during the Fa2d when glacial deposits are recorded in the paleo-mid-latitudes of the Appalachian basin. Evidence of this late Famennian increase in precipitation also is recorded in the adjacent marine environments. Equivalent-age marine units in Ohio and Kentucky record progressive increases in both total organic carbon and the percentage of terrestrially-derived organic carbon. This suggests that there was a late Famennian increase in terrestrial organic matter productivity, and that during the late Famennian, there were elevated levels of runoff produced by the interpreted increase in precipitation that washed progressively higher amounts of terrestrial organic matter into the local marine environments. The late Famennian climate changes identified within the Appalachian basin strata have been recognizable globally, and appear to have had both positive and negative effects on the Earth's biota. Some marine groups exhibit sharp diversity drops or even extinction coincident with the maximum development of the late Famennian ice age. Conversely, terrestrial biota appears to have been more positively affected by the late Famennian increased wetness that accompanied this progressive climate change. Marked diversification and evolutionary innovation, which appear to coincide with this climatic deviation, can be recognized within terrestrial plant communities and early tetrapod amphibians. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Year 2009
Title Evidence for long-term climate change in Upper Devonian strata of the central Appalachians
DOI 10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.10.010
Authors D. K. Brezinski, C. B. Cecil, V.W. Skema, C.A. Kertis
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Index ID 70037188
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse