Tethys Sea

Tethys Sea

      former tropical body of salt water that separated the supercontinent of Laurasia in the north from Gondwana in the south during much of the Mesozoic Era (251 to 65.5 million years ago). Laurasia consisted of what are now North America and the portion of Eurasia north of the Alpine-Himalayan mountain ranges, while Gondwana consisted of present-day South America, Africa, peninsular India, Australia, Antarctica, and those Eurasian regions south of the Alpine-Himalayan chain. These mountains were created by continental collisions that eventually eliminated the sea. Tethys was named in 1893, by the Austrian geologist Eduard Suess (Suess, Eduard), after the sister and consort of Oceanus, the ancient Greek god of the ocean.

      At least two Tethyan seas successively occupied the area between Laurasia and Gondwana during the Mesozoic Era. The first, called the Paleo (Old) Tethys Sea, was created when all landmasses converged to form the supercontinent of Pangea about 320 million years ago, late in the Paleozoic Era. During the Permian (Permian Period) and Triassic (Triassic Period) periods (approximately 300 to 200 million years ago), Paleo Tethys formed an eastward-opening oceanic embayment of Pangea in what is now the Mediterranean region. This ocean was eliminated when a strip of continental material (known as the Cimmerian continent) detached from northern Gondwana and rotated northward, eventually colliding with the southern margin of Laurasia during the Early Jurassic (Jurassic Period) Epoch (some 180 million years ago). Evidence of the Paleo Tethys Sea is preserved in marine sediments now incorporated into mountain ranges that stretch from northern Turkey through Transcaucasia (the Caucasus and the Pamirs), northern Iran and Afghanistan, northern Tibet ( Kunlun Mountains), and China and Indochina.

      The Neo (New, or Younger) Tethys Sea, commonly referred to simply as Tethys or the Tethys Sea, began forming in the wake of the rotating Cimmerian continent during the earliest part of the Mesozoic Era. During the Jurassic the breakup of Pangea into Laurasia to the north and Gondwana to the south resulted in a gradual opening of Tethys into a dominant marine seaway of the Mesozoic. A large volume of warm water flowed westward between the continents and connected the major oceans, most likely playing a large role in the Earth's heat transport and climate control. During times of major increases in sea level, the Tethyan seaway expanded and merged with seaways that flowed to the north, as indicated by fossil evidence of mixed Tethyan tropical faunas and more-temperate northern faunas.

      Tethyan deposits can be found in North America and Eurasia (especially in the Alpine and Himalayan regions) and in southern Asia (Myanmar and Indonesia). Limestones (limestone) are a dominant sedimentary facies of Tethys. These sediments are often very rich in fossils, indicating an abundant and diverse tropical marine fauna. Reefs are common within Tethyan deposits, including ones constructed by rudist bivalves (bivalve). Turbidites (ocean) (deposits created by a gravity-driven flow of fluidized sediments), shales (shale), and siliciclastic rocks (sedimentary rocks made of fragments with a high silica content) can also be found in Tethyan deposits.

      Initial compressional forces resulting from the subduction (subduction zone) of Africa under Europe caused block faulting (elevation of isolated rock masses relative to adjacent ones) during the Jurassic. By Cretaceous (Cretaceous Period) time the collision between the African and Eurasian plates resulted in more deformation of the Tethyan deposits, as shown by the contemporaneous generation of many faults (fault) and rock folds (fold). Volcanic (volcano) activity was common, and some oceanic volcanoes grew tall enough for their peaks to emerge above the surface of the sea, creating new islands. The presence of ophiolite (ocean) sequences—packages of deep-sea sediments and sections of ocean crust thrust up onto continental crust—is further evidence that compressional forces in this area became intense. East of the Alpine region, the Indian Plate was moving northward approaching the Asian Plate. Tethys closed during the Cenozoic Era about 50 million years ago when continental fragments of Gondwana—India, Arabia, and Apulia (consisting of parts of Italy, the Balkan states, Greece, and Turkey)—finally collided with the rest of Eurasia. The result was the creation of the modern Alpine-Himalayan ranges, which extend from Spain (the Pyrenees) and northwest Africa (the Atlas (Atlas Mountains)) along the northern margin of the Mediterranean Sea (the Alps and Carpathians) into southern Asia (the Himalayas) and then to Indonesia. Remnants of the Tethys Sea remain today as the Mediterranean (Mediterranean Sea), Black (Black Sea), Caspian (Caspian Sea), and Aral (Aral Sea) seas.

      The final closure of the Tethys Sea so severely defaced evidence of earlier closures that the prior existence of the Paleo Tethys Sea was not generally recognized until the 1980s. An important effect of the evolution of the Tethys Sea was the formation of the giant petroleum basins of North Africa and the Middle East, first by providing basins in which organic material could accumulate and then by providing structural and thermal conditions that allowed hydrocarbons to mature.

Carol Marie Tang

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Tethys Sea — /tɛθiz ˈsi/ (say tetheez see) noun a hypothetical sea, considered to have existed between Laurasia and the continents that formed Gondwana. Also, Tethys Ocean. {named after Tethys, a sea goddess in Greek legend} …  

  • Tethys Ocean — First phase of the Tethys Ocean s forming: the (first) Tethys Sea starts dividing Pangaea into two supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana. The Tethys Ocean (Greek: Τηθύς) was an ocean that existed between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia… …   Wikipedia

  • Tethys — geologists name for the sea that anciently lay between Eurasia and Africa Arabia, 1893, from the name of a Greek sea goddess, sister and consort of Oceanus …   Etymology dictionary

  • Tethys — Tethys1 [tē′this] n. [L < Gr Tēthys] 1. Gr. Myth. a daughter of Uranus and wife of Oceanus, by whom she is the mother of the Oceanides 2. a satellite of Saturn having long trenchlike valleys and sharing its orbit with other satellites Tethys2… …   English World dictionary

  • Tethys (mythology) — In Classical Greek mythology, Tethys (Greek Τηθύς ), daughter of Uranus and Gaia (Hesiod, Theogony lines 136, 337 and Bibliotheke 1.2) is an aquatic sea goddess. Tethys was both sister and wife of Oceanus. [Tethys and Oceanus appear as a pair in… …   Wikipedia

  • Tethys — /tee this/, n. 1. Class. Myth. a Titan, a daughter of Uranus and Gaea, the wife of Oceanus and mother of the Oceanids and river gods. 2. Astron. one of the moons of Saturn. 3. Geol. the Mesozoic ocean or seaway of which the Mediterranean Sea is a …   Universalium

  • sea hare — noun naked marine gastropod having a soft body with reduced internal shell and two pairs of ear like tentacles • Syn: ↑Aplysia punctata • Hypernyms: ↑gastropod, ↑univalve • Member Holonyms: ↑Aplysia, ↑genus Aplysia, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Tethys — I. noun Etymology: Latin, from Greek Tēthys Date: 1567 a Titaness and wife of Oceanus II. geographical name hypothetical sea believed to have extended into E Pangaea & later to have separated Laurasia to the N & Gondwanaland to the S with the… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tethys — noun 1. (Greek mythology) a Titaness and sea goddess; wife of Oceanus • Topics: ↑Greek mythology • Instance Hypernyms: ↑Titaness 2. type genus of the family Aplysiidae • Syn: ↑Aplysia, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Tethys — I. /ˈtiθɪs/ (say teethis), /ˈtɛθ / (say teth ) noun Greek Mythology a Titan and sea goddess who was the wife and sister of Oceanus. II. /ˈtiθɪs/ (say teethis), /tɛθ / (say teth ) noun one of the planet Saturn s satellites. {named after Tethys1} …  

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