We explain what the Carboniferous Period was, how it was divided and the climate it presents. Also, what are its characteristics, flora and fauna.

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An enormous amount of mineral coal was produced in the Carboniferous period.

What was the Carboniferous Period?

The Carboniferous Period or simply Carboniferous is known as the penultimate rung of the Paleozoic Era (started approximately 542 million years ago and ended about 298 million years ago) on the geological time scale. That is to say that it is the fifth period of the Paleozoic Erapreceded by the Devonian and succeeded by the Permian.

The Carboniferous begins about 359 million years ago and culminates approximately 299 million years ago. It is the longest period of the Paleozoic Era and one of the most tectonically active in Earth’s geological history.

Your name, what comes from the Latin words carbō (“coal”) and fero (“carrier”) It was given by the British geologists William Conybeare and William Phillips in 1822. It is because an enormous amount of coal was produced in the world during this period.

See also: Cretaceous Period

Previous period

The Devonian Period Starts about 416 million years ago and it is the fourth of the Paleozoic Era.

It is a time of great diversification of animal life.

The first amphibians aroseequipped with non-gill breathing systems to colonize dry land, possibly due to the pressure of a rapidly decreasing water level.

In addition, the earth had already been populated by arthropods, so there was a food niche to exploit.

In the sea, on the other hand, the fish multiplied and diversified. Sponges, nautiloids and ammonoids appeared, as well as primitive sharks. At the end of this period there was a mass extinction which seriously affected marine life.

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Division of the Carboniferous Period

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The Mississippian subperiod begins 358.9 million years ago.

The Carboniferous It is divided in two different ways: the North American and the European, the first being the one that enjoys the greatest international acceptance. Let’s see them both separately:

  • North American classification. According to this, the Carboniferous is divided into two Sub-periods or Systems, each one contemplating three Epochs or Series and encompassing between both seven Ages or Floors, as follows:
    • Mississippian Subperiod. It begins 358.9 million years ago and culminates approximately 330.9 million years ago, dividing into: Lower or Early Mississippian, equivalent to the Tournaisian Age; Middle Mississippian, equivalent to the Viseense Age; and Late or Upper Mississippian, equivalent to the Sepukhovian Age.
    • Pennsylvania subperiod. It begins 323.4 million years ago and culminates about 303.7 million years ago, dividing into: Lower or Early Pennsylvanian, equivalent to the Bashkirian Age; Middle Pennsylvanian, equivalent to the Moscovian Age; and Upper or Late Pennsylvanian, divided in turn into two Ages: Kasimoviense and Gzheliense.
  • European classification. The European classification divides the Carboniferous into two Series or Epochs, which cover five Floors or Ages, as follows:
    • Dinantian period. It begins approximately 359.2 million years ago and spans two Ages: the Tournaisian and the Visean.
    • Silesian period. It begins 326.4 million years ago and spans three Ages: the Namurian, the Westphalian, and the Stephanian.

Geological characteristics of the Carboniferous

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The continents were assembled into a supercontinent called Pangea.

If the end of the Devonian Period was characterized by a general drop in seawater levels, in the Carboniferous this proportion was reversed. New seas were created within the continents and the global temperature changed.

The continents They assembled on the supercontinent of Pangea., exerting pressure on each other and giving rise to a very active formation of mountains. Pangea in this period is shaped like an “O” and is surrounded by two oceans: Panthalassa, the global ocean, and Paleo-Tethys, the ocean in Pangea’s interior.

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Climatic characteristics of the Carboniferous

The Carboniferous climate is divided into two trends:

  • A warmer and wetter first trend. That facilitated the expansion of forests and jungles.
  • A second colder and drier. As Gondwana grew, the southern portion of Pangea became covered in glaciers that lasted until the Permian Period.

The formation of glaciers is due to the fact that the supercontinent moved tectonically towards the south pole of the planet, leaving Laurasia, its northern portion, in the intertropical zone. it was so tropical swamps proliferated in this period.

Characteristics of the Carboniferous flora

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In the Carboniferous, large, arborescent seed-bearing ferns prospered.

In no other geological period was there such a proliferation of plants as in the Carboniferous. The fossilization of plants is, in fact, the explanation of its name.

The Devonian flora grew during the lower stage and proliferated enormously in the later ones, achieving a great evolutionary success with a limited number of generabut great diversity of species.

Among them, they prospered seed-bearing ferns, large and arborescentthe tall trees of gymnosperms and other species that lasted until the Permian, when the increase in fauna made it possible to control the expansion of flora.

Fungi also diversified enormously during the Carboniferous, since there were not too many animals to devour them.

large coal deposits

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Repeating sequences of limestone, sandstone, slate, and coal were created.

The Carboniferous left a legacy of repeated geological sequencescomposed of limestone, sandstone, shale, and coal deposits, in that order, known as “cyclothems” in the United States and “Coal Measures” in Great Britain.

They are large coal deposits that were exploited by humans during the Industrial Revolution and constituted the first fossil fuels.

The accumulation of these carbon substrates is due to several factors. Mainly, the type of bark of Carboniferous trees was rich in lignin fiber. This compound could not yet be decomposed by bacteria and fungi, which left a large number of trunks out in the open.

Characteristics of the fauna of the Carboniferous

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In the Carboniferous the great predators were fish.

The fauna of the Carboniferous is particularly varied. The seas teemed with invertebrate animals such as echinoderms, brachiopods, sponges and trilobites. Calcareous algae were particularly important in the formation of barrier reefs, since corals had not yet evolved.

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The big predators were fishchondrichthyans (sharks and their relatives) and also the first amphibians, many of which still retained fish features, but were capable of breathing out of water.

hyperoxygenation of the atmosphere

During the Carboniferous there was a gigantic expansion of plant life, due to the hot climate and high humidity levels. Its consequences include a notorious increase in oxygen in the atmosphere, whose percentage of this gas reached 35% (compared to the current 21%).

The abundance of oxygen allowed the proliferation of animal lifeespecially arthropods, whose respiratory system directly depends on the abundance of oxygen around.

A) Yes, they were able to grow to levels that today would seem gigantic to us. Fossils of dragonflies as large as a modern seagull, for example, or scorpions up to a meter long have been found.

Mass extinction of the middle Carboniferous

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The extinction was a product of the expansion of glaciers in Gondwana.

In the middle of the Carboniferous period there was a mass extinction of species. Possibly was due to climate change product of the expansion of glaciers in Gondwana, which dried up the sea level and lowered the global temperature.

Later period: the Permian

The Permian is the last period of the Paleozoic Era and is located temporally from about 299 to about 251 million years ago. At this time the world consisted of two large continents, Siberia and Pangea, surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa.

there took place the first diversification of living beings into four ancestral groups. This is how mammals, turtles, lepidosaurs and archosaurs were differentiated.

the permian culminated in the largest known extinction in the history of life on the planetthe Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which wiped out 70% of terrestrial species and 90% of marine species.


  • “Carboniferous” on Wikipedia.
  • “Carboniferous Period” in InfoEscola.
  • “Carboniferous Period” in National Geographic.
  • “The Carboniferous Period” at the University of California Museum of Paleontology.
  • “Carboniferous Period” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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