The resolution and fidelity of global chronostratigraphic correlation are direct functions of the time period under consideration. By virtue of deep-ocean cores and astrochronology, the Cenozoic and Mesozoic time scales carry error bars of a few thousand years (k.y.) to a few hundred k.y. In contrast, most of the Paleozoic time scale carries error bars of plus or minus a few million years (m.y.), and chronostratigraphic control better than ±1 m.y. is considered “high resolution.” The general lack of Paleozoic abyssal sediments and paucity of orbitally tuned Paleozoic data series combined with the relative incompleteness of the Paleozoic stratigraphic record have proven historically to be such an obstacle to intercontinental chronostratigraphic correlation that resolving the Paleozoic time scale to the level achieved during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic was viewed as impractical, impossible, or both.
Here, we utilize integrated graptolite, conodont, and carbonate carbon isotope (δ13Ccarb) data from three paleocontinents (Baltica, Avalonia, and Laurentia) to demonstrate chronostratigraphic control for upper Llandovery through middle Wenlock (Telychian–Sheinwoodian, ∼436–426 Ma) strata with a resolution of a few hundred k.y. The interval surrounding the base of the Wenlock Series can now be correlated globally with precision approaching 100 k.y., but some intervals (e.g., uppermost Telychian and upper Sheinwoodian) are either yet to be studied in sufficient detail or do not show sufficient biologic speciation and/or extinction or carbon isotopic features to delineate such small time slices. Although producing such resolution during the Paleozoic presents an array of challenges unique to the era, we have begun to demonstrate that erecting a Paleozoic time scale comparable to that of younger eras is achievable.