Oceans That Once Were

Oceans That Once Were

800px-MiddleOrdovicianGlobal(Ordovician Period)

I spend many of my days now walking and biking amongst vast prairie and the remnants of the great woodlands that once proliferated throughout the Midwest before deforestation.  During my one of my micro-adventures I came upon three limestone boulders.  They were poised almost ceremoniously against the backdrop of a grassland landscape, so I approached.  Although pursuing a view of meadows rather than fossils, I corrected my gaze downward while resting on the stone. Millions of years of the hydrosphere then met my eyes. Arrested inside the boulders were the animals of prehistory-arthropoda, mollusca, echinodermata, lophophorates, cnidaria, porifera, protozoa. I stared incredulously at the annals of a disappeared ocean in a region currently devoid of the tides.

ordfos

The facts behind the find became clearer. The fossils were the 400 million year old vestiges of the Ordovician and Silurian periods that stretched throughout the middle of North America. Teeming ocean reefs burst with fauna, invertebrates, and nautoloids like Orthoceras (pictured below). Most of the world remained below sea level with the exception of the supercontinent, Gondwana.

Orthoceras_BW

The landscape that I believed timeless was, in fact, the evolution of receding tides and a naturally changing climate. And so a mind cannot help but wander.  What did those tides resemble?  Were they rapid?  Were they diurnal or semi-diurnal? What manner of tempestuous weather stirred the seas?  Were they relatively calm and glassy? How many waves amassed into behemoths that crested and peeled into surf-able slabs?  Was there marine life whose colors we’ve never seen?  How would the depths look when compared with today’s bathymetry?  What did the shorelines experience?  Lastly, why, in the metaphysical sense, do we even have disappeared oceans?

For me, the study of these questions remains rather unscientific as my imaginings of these bygone oceans provide far more wealth than any factual data. I realize that some of the allure of seas is found in our ponderings of them. Regardless of location, prairie or desert, rainforest or mountain range, the oceans are near. They always have been.

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