Scientists Finally Find What Killed off Sea Life in the Deadliest Mass Extinction on Earth

Some 252 million years ago, there was an apocalyptic event on Earth. An unprecedented extinction event, so mighty, it nearly destroyed all the life on the planet.

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Scientists have found that as much as seventy percent of all land species went extinct, and as much as ninety-six percent of all marine life died off, including the trilobite which managed to survive two previous mass extinction events.

Researchers refer to this era as the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, aka the Great Dying, and according to our historic records, it was the most apocalyptic event in the history of planet Earth.

So, what caused it?

Image Credit: Wookiepedia.
Image Credit: Wookiepedia.

The scientific community generally accepts that ‘climate change’ is the culprit. But it wasn’t the climate change we are experiencing today. According to experts, long-term volcanic activity in modern-day Siberia expelled so much material into the planet’s atmosphere; it wrapped the entire Earth in a shroud of ash that lasted millions of years.

This blocked off sunlight. It thinned down the planet’s ozone and caused acidic rain to fall around the world. All of these events combined caused the average temperate of the planet to rise.

But what happened to all marine life? What caused as much as ninety-six percent of all ocean life to go extinct?

Scientists now believe that marine life was obliterated because rising temperature caused the metabolism of oceanic creatures to accelerate.

This illustration shows the percentage of marine animals that went extinct at the end of the Permian era by latitude, from the model (black line) and from the fossil record (blue dots). Image Credit: Justin Penn and Curtis Deutsch/University of Washington.
This illustration shows the percentage of marine animals that went extinct at the end of the Permian era by latitude, from the model (black line) and from the fossil record (blue dots). Image Credit: Justin Penn and Curtis Deutsch/University of Washington.

This means that their requirements for oxygen greatly increased.

This, in turn, depleted Earth’s oceans from oxygen causing the animals to suffocate.

“This is the first time that we have made a mechanistic prediction about what caused the extinction that can be directly tested with the fossil record, which then allows us to make predictions about the causes of extinction in the future,” explained oceanographer Justin Penn of the University of Washington

Researchers performed a series of computer simulations that showed them the changes our planet went through during the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event. They found that before the massive Siberian volcanic eruptions, our planet’s temperatures and oxygen levels were similar to what we see today.

This gave them foundations to build their study.

In their simulation, they incredible greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere in order to replicate the conditions that would have existed after the volcanic eruptions.

This caused sea surface temperatures to increase by approximately eleven degrees Celsius.

Their simulations showed an oxygen depletion of up to seventy-six percent, and forty percent of the seafloor on the planet, mostly the greatest depths were completely depleted of oxygen.

Animals living in the oceans either adapted or became extinct.

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in – it was either flee or perish,” said oceanographer Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington.

Worryingly, researchers say that our current climate records show an accelerated increase in Earth’s average temperature.

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenarios, by 2100 warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20 percent of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 it will reach between 35 and 50 percent,” Penn explained.

“This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

The temperature increase of eleven degrees Celsius during the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event took thousands of years.

This means that we should pay attention to the temperature levels of our planet if we want to avoid seeing a similar catastrophe in the not so distant future.

Source
University of Washington
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