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Paleogene floras from the Gulf of Alaska

January 1, 1969

Numerous collections of fossil plants from the Gulf of Alaska region were obtained from rocks that are well dated by marine mollusks. The mollusks indicate that the oldest possible age for the lowest plant assemblage is middle Eocene (Domengine) and that the youngest possible age for the highest Paleogene plant assemblage is middle Oligocene (Lincoln).

Paleobotanical correlations indicate that the lowest plant assemblage is of early late Eocene (early Ravenian) age and the highest plant assemblage is of early Oligocene (Kummerian) age. A new provincial stage--the Angoonian--is proposed, based on assemblages from rocks in southeastern Alaska. The Angoonian is thought to be of late Oligocene (early Blakeley) age. Only one stratigraphically isolated assemblage from the Gulf of Alaska region has been recognized as of Angoonian age. The biostratigraphy of the Gulf of Alaska region and of other regions in Alaska indicates that the Seldovian, Homerian, and Clamgulchian Stages are probably entirely of Neogene age.

The early Ravenian assemblages represent Paratropical Rain forest (that is, similar to vegetation of a narrow region bordering the Tropical Rain forest) based on the physiognomic analysis of foliage; the most diverse families represented are Menispermaceae and Icacinaceae. These are accompanied by palms, Anonaceae, tjristicaceae, Dipterocarpaceae, Barringtoniaceae, and Myrtaceae. A minor element is represented by broad-leaved deciduous plants. The middle Ravenian was somewhat cooler, as indicated by foliar physiognomy, the fewer Tropical Rain forest elements, and the diversity of Lauraceae. The late Ravenian assemblage represents a broad-leaved deciduous forest indicating a temperate climate. The Kummerian assemblages were again dominated by Lauraceae, and the physiognomic characters of the foliage indicate that Subtropical forest was again represented.

The existence of a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Alaska such as that of the early Ravenian indicates that extended periods of darkness could probably not have existed at that time. The Alaskan Paleogene floras, as well as those from other regions, indicate that the earth's axis of rotation may not have had as great an inclination in the past. Strong climatic fluctuations evidenced by foliar physiognomy of Tertiary floras is thought to have been the result of changes in the inclination of the earth's axis.

The history of the development of the Arcto-Tertiary concept is reviewed, and the fundamental lack of evidence for this concept is shown. An alternative, more complex, concept is proposed for the development of the Mixed Mesophytic forest. Paleobotanical evidence indicates that tolerances of many genera have changed during the Tertiary. Many Mixed Mesophytic genera--particularly those that are today temperate outliers of basically tropical groups--may have had a wide distribution in the Paleogene Paratropical Rain and Subtropical forests and have entered the warm temperate forests only during the later Paleogene or Neogene. Some Mixed Mesophytic groups appear to be of later Neogene origin and have been significant members of the warm temperate forests since that time. Some Mixed Mesophytic genera apparently were members of the Paratropical Rain forest only in the earliest Paleogene and became adapted to warm temperate climates by the late Eocene or perhaps even earlier. The Mixed Mesophytic forest may have developed independently in Eurasia, western North America, and eastern North America.

Publication Year 1969
Title Paleogene floras from the Gulf of Alaska
DOI 10.3133/ofr69323
Authors Jack A. Wolfe
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 69-323
Index ID ofr69323
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse