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Triassic period

Triassic period (trĪăsˈĭk) [key], first period of the Mesozoic era of geologic time (see Geologic Timescale, table) from 205 to 250 million years ago.

Throughout the Triassic, E North America, as a result of the mountain-building episode that formed the Appalachians in the late Paleozoic era, was elevated above sea level. California and Nevada, however, were submerged. In the Lower Triassic the sea extended E to Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming; in the Middle Triassic it submerged British Columbia; in the Upper Triassic it extended into Alaska. In Lower and Upper Triassic time the west coast, from Alaska to British Columbia, was disturbed by violent and widespread volcanic activity. The Triassic formations of W North America are chiefly marine shale and limestone, with considerable igneous intrusions.

Near the end of the period, the only Triassic formation of E North America was deposited in downfaulted troughs, parallel to the Appalachians, from Nova Scotia to North Carolina. Composed of shale, conglomerate, and sandstone, this Newark series is comprised of sediments from the Appalachians. It is widely interrupted by so-called traprock—diabase dikes and sills—which forms ridges and cliffs, such as the Palisades of the Hudson near New York City. The end of the Triassic in North America was marked by extensive faulting and tilting of the Newark series, called the Palisade disturbance, and by the emergence of W North America.

The Triassic deposits of Germany form three series. In the Bunter series, the land was emergent, and red sandstone and sandy shale, with some salt and gypsum, were deposited. The Muschelkalk series saw the transgression of the land by the sea and the deposition of marine shale and limestone; the Keuper series saw the land again emergent and shale, sandstone, and gypsum being formed. In England there was no marine phase corresponding to the Muschelkalk; the Triassic of England is commonly called the New Red Sandstone. The Tethys, a great seaway, extended through the Mediterranean region E through the Middle East to the Himalayas and to E India. During the Triassic a subduction complex including an elongate volcanic arc system developed along the N American west coast. N Africa and Europe were still attached to N America as part of the supercontinent Pangaea.

The climate of the Triassic was semiarid to arid. In the plant life, marine algae were abundant, ferns and tree ferns less important than in the Paleozoic, conifers dominant among the trees, and a new group, the cycads, appeared. Many Paleozoic invertebrates appeared for the last time in the Triassic. The ammonites became very important, then were reduced at the end of the Triassic to one species, but were destined to become numerous again in the succeeding Jurassic period. Amphibians were apparently not as numerous as in the Paleozoic, but some types were more highly developed. The dominant animals of the Triassic were the reptiles; although the Triassic reptiles were less specialized than those of the Jurassic, there were already a number of types of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine reptiles. The Triassic rocks also contain the fossils of the earliest known mammals.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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