Study: Massive Amounts of CO2 Led to Mass Extinction 252 Million Years Ago

Researchers now believe a sudden spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide 252 million years ago led to abnormally acidic ocean conditions, which in turn killed nearly all of Earth's marine species.

The history of life on Earth is full of evolutionary close shaves, most of which we'll never know too much about. The authors of a new study published in Science believe they've uncovered a major clue as to the cause of one of life's narrowest escapes, known affectionately as The Great Dying, a name that pretty much spells it all out for you.

The Great Dying occurred near the end of the Permian Era, approximately 252 million years ago. As described by Alexandra Witze at Nature, it was a mass-extinction event that saw as many as 90 percent of the world's species disappear. Scientists possess only a cursory understanding of The Great Dying's causes, though there's convincing evidence that a rapid change in the Earth's carbon cycle was to blame.

Now, the researchers behind the new study are offering evidence that mass volcanic eruptions around the globe were the main culprits. These eruptions emitted huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. This in turn raised the acidity of the Earth's oceans to dangerous levels. All but a few marine species went extinct during this relatively quick chemistry shift. The amount of CO2 in the air did away with much of Earth's land-based life as well.

Witze suggests further research is necessary to corroborate the study. She also implies that climate scientists are likely to keep a close eye on further Great Dying research because of concerns about the planet's current rising atmospheric COlevels. If it offers any solace, the Great Dying was an event that took place over a period of 10,000 years. Even if COlevels continue to rise, mass extinction is only a worst-case scenario... and it'll be your distant descendants who will have to worry about it.

Read more at Nature.

Can't keep all those geological eras straight? Below, the Smithsonian's Kirk Johnson runs through the history of life on Earth in three minutes. During his sprint, Johnson covers the Great Dying mentioned above:

Photo credit: Merlin74 / Shutterstock

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Stress is contagious. Resilience can be too.

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Five Hawks Down: watch the tragic migration of six Californian raptors

Tracking project establishes northern Argentina is wintering ground of Swainson's hawks

Image: @TrackingTalons / Ruland Kolen
  • Watch these six dots move across the map and be moved yourself: this is a story about coming of age, discovery, hardship, death and survival.
  • Each dot is a tag attached to the talon of a Swainson's Hawk. We follow them on their very first migration, from northern California all the way down to Argentina.
  • After one year, only one is still alive.
Keep reading Show less

5 short podcasts to boost your creativity and success

These quick bursts of inspiration will brighten your day in 10 minutes or less.

Personal Growth

Podcasts can educate us on a variety of topics, but they don't have to last an hour or more to have an impact on the way you perceive the world. Here are five podcasts that will boost your creativity and well-being in 10 minutes or less.

Keep reading Show less