Most of this article on the Eocene Epoch was written by P. D. P. and Brian R. Speer.
The Eocene epoch is part of the Tertiary Period in the Cenozoic Era, and lasted from about 54.8 until 33.7 million years ago (mya). The oldest known fossil of most of the modern orders of mammals appear in a brief period during the Early Eocene and all were small, under ten kilograms in body /article/Mass. Both groups of modern ungulates (Artiodactyla and Perissodactyla) became prevalent mammals at this time, due to a major radiation between Europe and North America.
Tectonics and paleoclimate of the Eocene
The Early Eocene (Ypresian) is thought to have had the highest mean annual temperatures of the entire Cenozoic, with temperatures about 30°C; relatively low temperature gradients from pole to pole; and high precipitation in a world that was essentially ice free. Land connections existed between Antarctica and Australia, between North America and Europe through Greenland, and probably between North America and Asia through the Bering Strait. It was an important time of plate boundary rearrangement, in which the patterns of spreading centers and transform faults were changed, causing significant effects on oceanic and atmospheric circulation and temperature.
In the middle Eocene, the separation of Antarctica and Australia created a deep water passage between those two continents, creating the circum-Antarctic Current. This changed oceanic circulation patterns and global heat transport, resulting in a global cooling event observed at the end of the Eocene.
By the Late Eocene, the new ocean circulation resulted in a significantly lower mean annual temperature, with greater variability and seasonality worldwide. The lower temperatures and increased seasonality drove increased body size of mammals, and caused a shift towards increasingly open savanna-like vegetation, with a corresponding reduction in forested land area.
- Geologic Time pages updated to reflect Geological Society of America (GSA), 1999. Geologic Timescale, compiled by A.R. Palmer and J. Geissman
- Paleontology Portal, The Tertiary
- University of California Museum of Paleontology Homepage