Geological Magazine


A review of terrestrial and marine climates in the Cretaceous with implications for modelling the ‘Greenhouse Earth’

Robert A. Spicera1 and Richard M. Corfielda1

a1 Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PR, U.K.


From the unique perspective of the geological record, it appears that the ‘Greenhouse Earth’ was a feature of climate for up to 80 % of the last 500 Ma, and that therefore our present glacially dominated climate is an anomaly. The Cretaceous in particular was a time of global warmth, an extreme greenhouse world apparently warmer than our current Earth. The geological record provides perspective and constraints against which the success of climate models can be evaluated. At present there are no ways of evaluating model predictions for the future of our ‘Greenhouse Earth’ until after the event. Retrodicting the past is therefore a very useful way of testing model sensitivity and robustness. The geological record tells us that the characteristics of the Cretaceous greenhouse world were a shallower equator-to-pole temperature gradient, shallow, well-stratified epicontinental seas with a tendency towards periodic dysaerobism, and a well-developed terrestrial flora extending to the high latitudes. Both marine and non-marine data show a global cooling trend throughout Late Cretaceous time, a trend that seems to correlate with declining atmospheric carbon dioxide.

(Received November 05 1991)

(Accepted November 24 1991)