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The Paleogene Period

The Paleogen is a geologic period and system that spans 43 million years from the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago to the beginning of the Neogene Period, 23.03 million years ago.

The Paleogene is the beginning of the Cenozoic Era of the present Phanerozoic Eon.

The name is a combination of the Ancient Greek palæo- meaning "old" and the Eocene Epoch (which succeeds the Paleocene), translating to "the old part of the Eocene".

The epoch is bracketed by two major events in Earth's history. The K–Pg extinction event, brought on by an asteroid impact and possibly volcanism, marked the beginning of the Paleocene and killed off 75% of living species, most famously the non-avian dinosaurs.

The end of the epoch was marked by the Paleocene–Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), which was a major climatic event wherein about 2,500–4,500 gigatons of carbon were released into the atmosphere and ocean systems, causing a spike in global temperatures and ocean acidification.

The Paleogene is most notable for being the time during which mammals diversified from relatively small, simple forms into a large group of diverse animals in the wake of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that ended the preceding Cretaceous Period.

This period consists of the Paleocene, Eocene, and Oligocene epochs.

The end of the Paleocene (55.5/54.8 Mya) was marked by the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, one of the most significant periods of global change during the Cenozoic, which upset oceanic and atmospheric circulation and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera and on land, a major turnover in mammals.

The terms 'Paleogene System' (formal) and 'lower Tertiary System' (informal) are applied to the rocks deposited during the 'Paleogene Period'.

The somewhat confusing terminology seems to be due to attempts to deal with the comparatively fine subdivisions of time possible in the relatively recent geologic past, for which more details are preserved.

By dividing the Tertiary Period into two periods instead of directly into five epochs, the periods are more closely comparable to the duration of 'periods' of the preceding Mesozoic and Paleozoic Eras.


The global climate during the Paleogene departed from the hot and humid conditions of the late Mesozoic era and began a cooling and drying trend which, despite having been periodically disrupted by warm periods such as the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, persisted until the temperature begun to rise again during the Anthropocene, ca. 1945.

The trend was partly caused by the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which significantly lowered oceanic water temperatures.

A 2018 published study estimated that during the early Palaeogene about 56-48 million years ago, annual air temperatures, over land and at mid-latitude, averaged about 23–29 °C (± 4.7 °C), which is 5–10 °C higher than most previous estimates.

Or for comparison, 10 to 15 °C higher than current annual mean temperatures in these areas, the authors also suggest that the current atmospheric carbon dioxide trajectory, if it continues, could establish these temperatures again.

During the Paleogene, the continents continued to drift closer to their current positions. India was in the process of colliding with Asia, subsequently forming the Himalayas.

The Atlantic Ocean continued to widen by a few centimeters each year.

Africa was moving north to meet with Europe and form the Mediterranean, while South America was moving closer to North America (they would later connect via the Isthmus of Panama).

Inland seas retreated from North America early in the period. Australia had also separated from Antarctica and was drifting toward Southeast Asia.

In the Paleocene, the continents of the Northern Hemisphere were still connected via some land bridges; and South America, Antarctica, and Australia had not completely separated yet.

The Rocky Mountains were being uplifted, the Americas had not yet joined, the Indian Plate had begun its collision with Asia, and the North Atlantic Igneous Province was forming in the third-largest magmatic event of the last 150 million years. In the oceans, the thermohaline circulation probably was much different than it is today, with downwellings occurring in the North Pacific rather than the North Atlantic, and water density mainly being controlled by salinity rather than temperature.

The K–Pg extinction event caused a floral and faunal turnover of species, with previously abundant species being replaced by previously uncommon ones. In the Paleocene, with a global average temperature of about 24–25 °C (75–77 °F), compared to 14 °C (57 °F) in more recent times, the Earth had a greenhouse climate without permanent ice sheets at the poles, like the preceding Mesozoic. As such, there were forests worldwide , including at the poles, but they had low species richness in regards to plant life, populated by mainly small creatures that were rapidly evolving to take advantage of the recently emptied Earth.

Though some animals attained great size, most remained rather small.

The forests grew quite dense in the general absence of large herbivores. Mammals proliferated in the Paleocene, and the earliest placental and marsupial mammals are recorded from this time, but most Paleocene taxa have ambiguous affinities. In the seas, ray-finned fish rose to dominate open ocean and reef ecosystems.

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