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Low-latitude seasonality of Cretaceous temperatures in warm and cold episodes


The Cretaceous period is generally considered to have been a time of warm climate1,2,3,4,5,6. Evidence for cooler episodes exists, particularly in the early Cretaceous period6,7,8, but the timing and significance of these cool episodes are not well constrained. The seasonality of temperatures is important for constraining equator-to-pole temperature gradients and may indicate the presence of polar ice sheets; however, reconstructions of Cretaceous sea surface temperatures are predominantly based on the oxygen isotopic composition of planktonic foraminifera1,2,3,4 that do not provide information about such intra-annual variations. Here we present intra-shell variations in δ18O values of rudist bivalves (Hippuritoidea) from palaeolatitudes between 8° and 31° N, which record the evolution of the seasonality of Cretaceous sea surface temperatures in detail. We find high maximum temperatures (35 to 37 °C) and relatively low seasonal variability (< 12 °C) between 20° and 30° N during the warmer Cretaceous episodes. In contrast, during the cooler episodes our data show seasonal sea surface temperature variability of up to 18 °C near 25° N, comparable to the range found today. Such a large seasonal variability is compatible with the existence of polar ice sheets.

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Figure 1: Palaeo-positions of localities studied.
Figure 2: Intra-shell variation of δ 18 O and δ 13 C values in sclerochronological sections.
Figure 3: Ranges of δ 18 O values in sclerochronological sections of rudist bivalves.
Figure 4: Intra-shell variations in δ 18 O values and palaeotemperature seasonality as functions of palaeolatitude.


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This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. We thank D. Buhl, U. Schulte, B. Gehnen and B. Raczek for advice and support in the laboratory. We also thank J. Mutterlose for discussions. S. Özer and O. F. Geyer provided some of the studied specimens from Turkey and Spain.

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Correspondence to Thomas Steuber.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Table

The Supplementary Table contains details of localities, stratigraphy, taxonomy of specimens and geochemical data. It also contains palaeolatitudes and references for the derivation of palaeolatitudes and numerical ages for localities. (DOC 41 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

The Supplementary Figure contains images of shell structures of a rudist bivalve to demonstrate the general morphology of the shell, the preservation of inner and outer shell layers and ultrastructural details. (DOC 2389 kb)

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Steuber, T., Rauch, M., Masse, JP. et al. Low-latitude seasonality of Cretaceous temperatures in warm and cold episodes. Nature 437, 1341–1344 (2005).

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