Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point

A Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) is an internationally agreed upon reference point on a stratigraphic section which defines the lower boundary of a stage on the geologic time scale. The effort to define GSSPs is conducted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, a part of the International Union of Geological Sciences. Most, but not all, GSSPs are based on paleontological changes. Hence GSSPs are usually described in terms of transitions between different faunal stages, though far more faunal stages have been described than GSSPs. The GSSP definition effort commenced in 1977. As of 2022, 78 of the 101 stages that need a GSSP have a ratified GSSP.[1]

The 'golden spike' (bronze disk in the lower section of the image) or 'type section' of the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the base of Ediacaran period (Ediacara, South Australia)
The 'golden spike' marking the Ediacaran GSSP


A geologic section has to fulfill a set of criteria to be adapted as a GSSP by the ICS. The following list summarizes the criteria:[2][3]

  • A GSSP has to define the lower boundary of a geologic stage.
  • The lower boundary has to be defined using a primary marker (usually first appearance datum of a fossil species).
    • There should also be secondary markers (other fossils, chemical, geomagnetic reversal).
    • The horizon in which the marker appears should have minerals that can be radiometrically dated.
    • The marker has to have regional and global correlation in outcrops of the same age
    • The marker should be independent of facies.
  • The outcrop has to have an adequate thickness
  • Sedimentation has to be continuous without any changes in facies
  • The outcrop should be unaffected by tectonic and sedimentary movements, and metamorphism
  • The outcrop has to be accessible to research and free to access.
    • This includes that the outcrop has to be located where it can be visited quickly (International airport and good roads), has to be kept in good condition (Ideally a national reserve), in accessible terrain, extensive enough to allow repeated sampling and open to researchers of all nationalities.

Agreed-upon Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points

World map of all ratified GSSPs.[4]

Once a GSSP boundary has been agreed upon, a "golden spike" is driven into the geologic section to mark the precise boundary for future geologists (though in practice the "spike" need neither be golden nor an actual spike). The first stratigraphic boundary was defined in 1972 by identifying the Silurian-Devonian boundary with a bronze plaque at a locality called Klonk, northeast of the village of Suchomasty in the Czech Republic. GSSPs are also sometimes referred to as Golden Spikes.

Fortune Head GSSP

The Precambrian-Cambrian boundary GSSP at Fortune Head, Newfoundland is a typical GSSP. It is accessible by paved road and is set aside as a nature preserve. A continuous section is available from beds that are clearly Precambrian into beds that are clearly Cambrian. The boundary is set at the first appearance of a complex trace fossil Treptichnus pedum that is found worldwide. The Fortune Head GSSP is unlikely to be washed away or built over. Nonetheless, Treptichnus pedum is less than ideal as a marker fossil as it is not found in every Cambrian sequence, and it is not assured that it is found at the same level in every exposure. In fact, further eroding its value as a boundary marker, it has since been identified in strata 4m below the GSSP.[5] However, no other fossil is known that would be preferable. There is no radiometrically datable bed at the boundary at Fortune Head, but there is one slightly above the boundary in similar beds nearby. These factors have led some geologists to suggest that this GSSP is in need of reassigning.

Global Standard Stratigraphic Ages

Because defining a GSSP depends on finding well-preserved geologic sections and identifying key events, this task becomes more difficult as one goes farther back in time. Before 630 million years ago, boundaries on the geologic timescale are defined simply by reference to fixed dates, known as "Global Standard Stratigraphic Ages".

See also

Units in geochronology and stratigraphy[6]
Segments of rock (strata) in chronostratigraphy Time spans in geochronology Notes to
geochronological units
EonothemEon4 total, half a billion years or more
ErathemEra10 defined, several hundred million years
SystemPeriod22 defined, tens to ~one hundred million years
SeriesEpoch34 defined, tens of millions of years
StageAge99 defined, millions of years
ChronozoneChronsubdivision of an age, not used by the ICS timescale


  1. "International Chronostratigraphic Chart 2022". International Commission on Stratigraphy. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  2. Remane, J.; M. G. Bassett; J. W. Cowie; K.H. Gohrbandt; H.R. Lane; O. Michelsen; Wang Naiwen (1996). "Guidelines for the establishment of global chronostratigraphic standards by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS)" (PDF). Episodes. 19: 77–81. doi:10.18814/epiiugs/1996/v19i3/007. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-03-18.
  3. "GSSP Rules". Geologic Timescale Foundation. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  4. "GSSP Table - All Periods". Geologic Timescale Foundation. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  5. Gehling, J.; Jensen, S. R.; Droser, M.; Myrow, P.; Narbonne, G. (March 2001). "Burrowing below the basal Cambrian GSSP, Fortune Head, Newfoundland". Geological Magazine. 138 (2): 213–218. Bibcode:2001GeoM..138..213G. doi:10.1017/S001675680100509X.
  6. Cohen, K.M.; Finney, S.; Gibbard, P.L. (2015), International Chronostratigraphic Chart (PDF), International Commission on Stratigraphy.


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