Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Peter J. Harries, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gregory S. Herbert, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eric A. Oches, Ph.D.


Cretaceous, Campanian, epicontinental sea, paleoclimatology, paleooceanography, fossil preservation, mollusks, oxygen, carbon, minor elements


Whether a global greenhouse interval is a distinct or distant future, it is important to understand the dynamics of a greenhouse system. During such intervals the oceans, in the absence of sizeable polar ice caps, flood the continental shelf. The stratification and circulation of these epicontinental seas are open to debate, because there are no Recent analogs. The carbon and oxygen stable isotope record of fossil molluscan shell from epicontinental seas has the potential to reveal their stratification and seasonal cycles. As a study sample, mollusks from the Baculites compressus and Baculites cuneatus biozones of the Western Interior Seaway of North America were collected from three locations: Kremmling, Colorado; Trask Ranch, South Dakota; Game Ranch, South Dakota. These fossils date to the Campanian (Late Cretaceous). Taxa include ammonites, bivalves, gastropods, and nautiloids. The first part of this investigation, described in Chapter 2, investigates the degree of alteration in these specimens. Elevated concentrations of minor elements such as magnesium and strontium reveal alteration from the original aragonite and/or calcite skeletons. Concentrations of these elements obtained by ICP-OES analysis are compared within several suites of specimens: mode of preservation, shell testing location, shell viii color, cementation, appearance under light microscope, and appearance under scanning electron microscope. Each of these suites tests a hypothesis about optimal shell preservation. Shell was found to be preserved best in shale rather than concretions, ammonite phragmacone rather than septa, opalescent specimens rather that nonopalescent ones, and uncemented shells rather than cemented shells, especially those with second-order versus first-order cement. Salinity and temperature values were derived for the organisms in the Western Interior Seaway: while bivalves produced unusually low temperatures, the others were reasonable for an inland sea. The second part of this study, described in Chapter 3, examines the isotopic record within exemplary mollusk shells, taken perpendicular to growth lines. The data for this investigation in sclerochronology documents the dominant isotopically enigmatic bottom-water habitat of the Inoceramus, the geochemical signature of the overlying water mass inhabited by Baculites, and short-term migrations between the two water masses in the nautiloid Eutrephoceras.