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Tracing the tropics across land and sea: Permian to Present
Ziegler, A.M., Eshel, G., Rees, P.M., Rothfus, T.A., Rowley, D.B. & Sunderlin, D. (2003).
Lethaia, 36:227-254.


ABSTRACT. The continuity through the past 300 million years of key tropical sediment types, namely coals, evaporites, reefs and carbonates, is examined. Physical controls for their geographical distributions are related to the Hadley cell circulation, and its effects on rainfall and ocean circulation. Climate modelling studies are reviewed in this context, as are biogeographical studies of key fossil groups. Low-latitude peats and coals represent everwet climates related to the Intertropical Convergence Zone near the Equator, as well as coastal diurnal rainfall systems elsewhere in the tropics and subtropics.

The incidence of tropical coals and rain forests through time is variable, being least common during the interval of Pangean monsoonal climates. Evaporites represent the descending limbs of the Hadley cells and are centered at 10 degrees to 40 degrees north and south in latitudes that today show an excess of evaporation over precipitation. These deposits coincide with the deserts as well as seasonally rainy climates, and their latitudinal ranges seem have been relatively constant through time. Reefs also can be related to the Hadley circulation. They thrive within the regions of clear water associated with broad areas of downwelling which are displaced toward the western portions of tropical oceans. These dynamic features are ultimately driven by the subtropical high-pressure cells which are the surface signatures of the subsiding branches of the Hadley circulation. Carbonates occupy the same areas, but extend into higher latitudes in regions where terrestrial surface gradients are low and clastic runoff from the land is minimal.

We argue that the palaeo-latitudinal record of all these climate-sensitive sediment types is broadly similar to their environments and latitudes of formation today, implying that the dynamic effects of atmospheric and oceanic circulation control their distribution, rather than temperature gradients that would expand or contract through time.