Major episodes of geologic change: correlations, time structure and possible causes

Michael R. Rampino, Ken Caldeira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Published data sets of major geologic events of the past ∼ 250 Myr (extinction events, sea-level lows, continental flood-basalt eruptions, mountain-building events, abrupt changes in sea-floor spreading, ocean-anoxic and blackshale events and the largest evaporite deposits) have been synthesized (with estimated errors). These events show evidence for a statistically significant periodic component with an underlying periodicity, formally equal to 26.6 Myr, and a recent maximum, close to the present time. The cycle may not be strictly periodic, but a periodicity of ∼ 30 Myr is robust to probable errors in dating of the geologic events. The intervals of geologic change seem to involve jumps in sea-floor spreading associated with episodic continental rifting, volcanism, enhanced orogeny, global sea-level changes and fluctuations in climate. The period may represent a purely internal earth-pulsation, but evidence of planetesimal impacts at several extinction boundaries, and a possible underlying cycle of 28-36 Myr in crater ages, suggests that highly energetic impacts may be affecting global tectonics. A cyclic increase in the flux of planetesimals might result from the passage of the Solar System through the central plane of the Milky Way Galaxy-an event with a periodicity and mean phasing similar to that detected in the geologic changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-227
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jan 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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