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Exploring Geologic Time Poster

Illustrated Teacher's Guide


#35-1145 Paper
#35-1146 Laminated

Background
Geologic Time Scale Basics
The history of the Earth covers a vast expanse of time, so scientists divide it into smaller sections that are associated with particular events that have occurred in the past. The approximate time range of each time span is
shown on the poster. The largest time span of the geologic time scale is the eon. It is an indefinitely long period of
time that contains at least two eras. Geologic time is divided into two eons. The more ancient eon is called the
Precambrian, and the more recent is the Phanerozoic. Each eon is subdivided into smaller spans called eras. The
Precambrian eon is divided from most ancient into the Hadean era, Archean era, and Proterozoic era. See Figure 1.

Precambrian Eon
Proterozoic Era
Archaean Era
Hadean Era

2500 - 550 million years ago


3800 - 2500 million years ago
4600 - 3800 million years ago
Figure 1. Eras of the Precambrian Eon

Single-celled and simple multicelled organisms first developed during the Precambrian eon. There are many fossils from this time because the sea-dwelling creatures were trapped in sediments and preserved.
The Phanerozoic eon is subdivided into three eras the Paleozoic era, Mesozoic era, and Cenozoic era. An era is
often divided into several smaller time spans called periods. For example, the Paleozoic era is divided into the
Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian periods.

Paleozoic Era
Permian Period
Carboniferous Period
Devonian Period
Silurian Period
Ordovician Period
Cambrian Period

300 - 250 million years ago


350 - 300 million years ago
400 - 350 million years ago
450 - 400 million years ago
500 - 450 million years ago
550 - 500 million years ago
Figure 2. Periods of the Paleozoic Era

The Mesozoic Era contains the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods, as illustrated in Figure 3. It is often
called the Age of the Dinosaurs because of its famous inhabitants.

Mesozoic Era
Cretaceous Period
Jurassic Period
Triassic Period

150 - 65 million years ago


200 - 150 million years ago
250 - 200 million years ago

Figure 3. Periods of the Mesozoic Era


The two periods of the Cenozoic Era are the Tertiary and Quaternary. A period is divided into an even smaller
unit called an epoch. The Tertiary period of the Cenozoic era is comprised of the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene,
Miocene, and Pliocene. The Quaternary period of the Cenozoic era includes the Pleistocene and Holocene
(Recent) epochs. See Figure 4.

Cenozoic Era
Quaternary Period
Recent (or Halocene)
Pleistocene
Tertiary Period
Pliocene
Miocene
Oligocene
Eocene
Paleocene

2 million years ago - present


0.01 million years ago - present
2 - 0.01 million years ago
65 - 0.01 million years ago
5 - 2 million years ago
25 - 5 million years ago
35 - 25 million years ago
55 - 35 million years ago
65 - 55 million years ago
Figure 4. Periods and Epochs of the Cenozoic Era

Our Changing Earth


Scientists measure the breakdown of certain atoms in rocks to estimate the
age of the Earth. Current measurements suggest that the Earth is approximately 4600 million years old (4 600 000 000 or 4.6 billion years old). It has
undergone many changes throughout its long history. Some changes caused
mass extinctions to occur. A mass extinction is the complete removal of many
species from the surface of the Earth at the same time. Fossils, the preserved
remains of organisms from the past, and other evidence of mass extinctions
show significant changes in the balance of life on Earth. Scientists have subdivided the geologic time scale to reflect these significant events throughout
Earths history. Although unfortunate for the organisms at the time, mass
extinctions allow us to identify transitions from one period to another.
The physical features of the Earth have also changed over time. Alfred Wegener
(1880 1930) proposed the theory of continental drift to explain the distribution of fossils, patterns and formation of mountain ranges, and how the shapes of
the continents appeared as if they could fit together much like pieces of a jigsaw
Figure 5. A fossil of Archeopteryx
puzzle. He suggested that, at one time, the continents were joined together as a
single supercontinent called Pangaea. Over millions of years, Pangaea broke apart and the continents gradually
moved to their present locations. At the time,Wegener could not explain what caused the massive continents to
move. Scientists later developed the theory of plate tectonics to explain how and why continents move.The surface
of the Earth, called the crust, is broken into several large chunks or plates. As currents of molten (magma) or partially
molten rock beneath a section of crust move, they drag the floating plate along with them. Fossil evidence of tropical
plants in Antarctica and elsewhere suggest that as the plates moved, their climate dramatically changed. Organisms
that could not cope with these changes died and some were preserved as fossils.

Figure 6. The break up of Pangaea and movement of the continents over time

Worksheet # 1 The Geologic Time Scale


Answer the questions in the spaces provided.
1. Explain the relationships among eons, eras, epochs, and periods of the geologic time scale.

2. How did scientists account for fossils and other geological evidence as they developed the geologic time
scale?

3. Match the description with the appropriate subdivision of the geologic time scale. Use each term once.
Description

Term

_____ Hadean, Archaean, and Proterozoic

A. Paleozoic

_____ Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous

B. Cenozoic

_____ Tertiary and Quaternary

C. Precambrian

_____ Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian,


Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian

D. Mesozoic

COPYMASTER:Permission granted to make unlimited copies.Copy use confined to educational purposes within a single school building.Copyright Neo/SCI.

Worksheet # 2 Our Changing Earth


Answer the questions in the spaces provided.
1. What was Pangaea? What evidence supports the past existence of Pangaea?

2. Describe the theory of continental drift and identify who first proposed this theory.

3. How did the theory of plate tectonics improve on the theory of continental drift?

COPYMASTER:Permission granted to make unlimited copies.Copy use confined to educational purposes within a single school building.Copyright Neo/SCI.

Worksheet # 1 The Geologic Time Scale


(Expected Results)
Answer the questions in the spaces provided.
1. Explain the relationships among eons, eras, epochs and periods of the geologic time scale.
Eons are the largest spans of time in the geologic time scale. Eons are divided into smaller units called
eras. Eras are subdivided into periods. Periods are subdivided into even smaller time spans called epochs.
2. How did scientists account for fossils and other geological evidence as they develop the geologic time scale?
Scientists associated the subdivisions of the geologic time scale with events that occurred in Earths past.
Fossils and other geological evidence were used to identify significant changes in the Earth, which sometimes caused mass extinctions.
3. Match the description with the appropriate subdivision of the geologic time scale. Use each term once.
Description

Term

C Hadean, Archaean, and Proterozoic


_____

A. Paleozoic

D Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous


_____

B. Cenozoic

B Tertiary and Quaternary


_____

C. Precambrian

A Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian,


_____
Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian

D. Mesozoic

Worksheet # 2 Our Changing Earth


(Expected Results)
Answer the questions in the spaces provided.
1. What was Pangaea? What evidence supports the past existence of Pangaea?
Pangaea was a single super continent formed in the past when all the landmasses of the Earth were connected. The shapes of the continents appear to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The distribution
of fossils of various types and patterns of mountain ranges suggest that the continents were once connected.
2. Describe the theory of continental drift and identify who first proposed this theory.
Alfred Wegener first proposed the theory of continental drift. This theory explained that the continents
floated on a liquid core and at one time were connected to form the supercontinent called Pangaea.
Pangaea then gradually broke apart and the continents drifted to their present locations.
3. How did the theory of plate tectonics improve on the theory of continental drift?
Both theories explained that the current location of continents is different from their locations in the past.
The theory of continental drift included the idea that the continents floated on a liquid core. The theory of
plate tectonics further explained that the crust or surface of the Earth is broken into plates or chunks,
which float on a liquid core. As currents in the hot liquid flow, they drag the plates. Thus the theory of
plate tectonics explained how huge landmasses could be moved.