There’s more to the Carboniferous than just coal!
The Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic Era began 354 million years ago. It lasted for about 64 million years, until 290 million years ago. The name ‘Carboniferous’ came from the large amounts of carbon-bearing coal that was formed during the period. These deposits of coal occur throughout northern Europe, Asia, and midwestern and eastern North America.
The main early carboniferous plants were the Equisetales (horse-tails), Sphenophyllales (scrambling plants), Lycopodiales (club mosses), Lepidodendrales (scale trees), Filicales (ferns), and the Cordaitales. These continued to dominate throughout the period, but during late Carboniferous, several other groups, Cycadophyta (cycads) appeared.
The Carboniferous lycophytes of the order Lepidodendrales, which are cousins (but not ancestors) of the tiny club-moss of today, were huge trees with trunks 30 meters high and up to 1.5 meters in diameter. These included Lepidodendron. So vigorous is the growth of these ancient trees that they seemed to have sucked much of the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, producing a surfeit of oxygen. Oxygen levels were higher during this time than at any other time in the history of the Earth.
This project was undertaken by Rachel Unwin, Holly Smith and Helen Emmerson for their fourth-year module called Earth Science into Society. The module provided an opportunity for students to work closely with industrial partners on projects that give experience of the business environment, entrepreneurship, and enterprise. This module formed part of their MSci degree in Earth Sciences.