Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point

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A Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point, abbreviated GSSP, is an internationally agreed upon stratigraphic section which serves as the reference section for a particular boundary 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 2004, 45 of the 96 GSSPs required have been approved.


An ideal GSSP

An ideal GSSP would:

  • Be accessible to research
  • Be easily related to other exposures worldwide
  • Be extensive enough to ensure future access
  • Contain a radiometrically datable bed at the boundary, and
  • Include well defined markers at the stage boundary that can be applied worldwide.

No GSSP is ideal.

Agreed-upon GSSPs

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![1] 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 re-assigning.

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 1977 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.

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