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Did Cooling Oceans Trigger Ordovician Biodiversification? Evidence from Conodont Thermometry

Science  25 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5888, pp. 550-554
DOI: 10.1126/science.1155814

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Abstract

The Ordovician Period, long considered a supergreenhouse state, saw one of the greatest radiations of life in Earth's history. Previous temperature estimates of up to ∼70°C have spawned controversial speculation that the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater must have evolved over geological time. We present a very different global climate record determined by ion microprobe oxygen isotope analyses of Early Ordovician–Silurian conodonts. This record shows a steady cooling trend through the Early Ordovician reaching modern equatorial temperatures that were sustained throughout the Middle and Late Ordovician. This favorable climate regime implies not only that the oxygen isotopic composition of Ordovician seawater was similar to that of today, but also that climate played an overarching role in promoting the unprecedented increases in biodiversity that characterized this period.

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