A carboniferous forest during the Carboniferous period with club mosses, ferns and horsetails

Carboniferous period

The Carboniferous is famed for having the highest atmospheric oxygen levels the Earth has ever experienced and for the evolution of the first reptiles. Plants grew and died at such a great rate that they eventually became coal. The period was originally called the Coal Measures after its proliferation of coal-bearing rocks. Though the Carboniferous started off warm - hence its lush coal forests - the temperature began to drop and the polar regions were plunged into an ice age that lasted millions of years. In North America, the Carboniferous is divided into two epochs, the Mississippian and the Pennsylvanian.

Began: Late Devonian mass extinction
354 million years ago

Ended: 290 million years ago

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What the Earth was like

A map of the Earth in the Carboniferous Period

Reconstruction of the Earth in the Carboniferous period, 354 million - 290 million years ago. Credit: Dr Ron Blakey, NAU Geology.

Causes of extinctions

During this period the following extinction level events are thought to have occurred.

Climate change Climate change
Earth's climate is not constant. Over geological time, the Earth's dominant climate has gone from ice age to tropical heat and from steamy jungles to searing deserts.

Types of fossils formed in this period

BBC News about Carboniferous period

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