Getty Images Eric CHRETIEN
The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once stated that life has been on since the beginning of life the earth exists. There has never been a point where there were no living beings on the planet after life. But that does not mean there were no close calls. The End-Permian extinction, which occurred about 250 million years ago, killed 90 percent of planet life. A new study explores what gave this extinction, powered by volcanoes, its unique power.
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There are many names for End-Permian extermination, including "the Permian-Triassic extinction event" and "the great dying." The only extinction event in history that decimated both insects and larger animals caused a loss of biodiversity so great that it took the global ecosystem ten million years to recover. The extinction is largely due to a volcanic explosion in Russia known as Siberian flood basalts.
While volcanic explosions are still natural disasters, today they occur without any danger of extinction. There was something unique about the Siberian flood Basalts.
"The extent of this extinction was so incredible that scientists have often wondered what made the Siberian tide basalts so much deadlier than other similar eruptions," says Michael Broadley, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Petrographic and Geochemical Research in Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France, and lead author of the newspaper, in a press release
Time was certainly a factor. The Siberian flood basalts exploded for nearly a million years. Scientists have several theories about what they did during that time, including pumping deadly microbes into the air. This latest study examines what lay beneath the Siberian tide basalt, a rock between the crust and the mantle, known as the lithosphere.
The Siberian lithosphere was loaded with chlorine, bromine and iodine. These are all chemical elements from the halogen group of the periodic table. Inhaling gas with these elements is very toxic and usually fatal – the Center for Disease Control warns strongly against breathing any of these three elements.
The animals of the Permian Triassic had no choice The feathers that covered the planet unleashed these deadly chemicals into the atmosphere, triggering a chain of events that barely survived life. Broadley's team has shown that after thousands of years of continuous explosions, the Siberian lithosphere seems to have exhausted its deadly chemicals.
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"We concluded that the large reservoir of halogens was stored in the Siberian lithosphere, was sent into the Earth's atmosphere during the volcanic explosion, effectively destroying the ozone layer at that time and mass extinction contributed, "says Broadley.
There are other theories about how the great dying has reached such amazing numbers. These include extreme coal burning, which has led to increased acidification of the ocean and triggered a form of global warming.
It is of course possible that these events all took place in tandem. Killing 90 percent of marine animals and 70 percent of land species is not what happens every day.