Giant mass extinction may have been quicker than previously thought – carbon dioxide blamed

From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , another “carbon as planet killer” scenario.

MIT researchers find that the end-Permian extinction happened in 60,000 years — much faster than earlier estimates

The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of life on land — including the largest insects known to have inhabited the Earth. Multiple theories have aimed to explain the cause of what’s now known as the end-Permian extinction, including an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, or a cataclysmic cascade of environmental events. But pinpointing the cause of the extinction requires better measurements of how long the extinction period lasted.

Now researchers at MIT have determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years — practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective. The new timescale is based on more precise dating techniques, and indicates that the most severe extinction in history may have happened more than 10 times faster than scientists had previously thought.

“We’ve got the extinction nailed in absolute time and duration,” says Sam Bowring, the Robert R. Shrock Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at MIT. “How do you kill 96 percent of everything that lived in the oceans in tens of thousands of years? It could be that an exceptional extinction requires an exceptional explanation.”

In addition to establishing the extinction’s duration, Bowring, graduate student Seth Burgess, and a colleague from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology also found that, 10,000 years before the die-off, the oceans experienced a pulse of light carbon, which likely reflects a massive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This dramatic change may have led to widespread ocean acidification and increased sea temperatures by 10 degrees Celsius or more, killing the majority of sea life.

But what originally triggered the spike in carbon dioxide? The leading theory among geologists and paleontologists has to do with widespread, long-lasting volcanic eruptions from the Siberian Traps, a region of Russia whose steplike hills are a result of repeated eruptions of magma. To determine whether eruptions from the Siberian Traps triggered a massive increase in oceanic carbon dioxide, Burgess and Bowring are using similar dating techniques to establish a timescale for the Permian period’s volcanic eruptions that are estimated to have covered over five million cubic kilometers.

“It is clear that whatever triggered extinction must have acted very quickly,” says Burgess, the lead author of a paper that reports the results in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “fast enough to destabilize the biosphere before the majority of plant and animal life had time to adapt in an effort to survive.”

Pinning dates on an extinction

In 2006, Bowring and his students made a trip to Meishan, China, a region whose rock formations bear evidence of the end-Permian extinction; geochronologists and paleontologists have flocked to the area to look for clues in its layers of sedimentary rock. In particular, scientists have focused on a section of rock that is thought to delineate the end of the Permian, and the beginning of the Triassic, based on evidence such as the number of fossils found in surrounding rock layers.

Bowring sampled rocks from this area, as well as from nearby alternating layers of volcanic ash beds and fossil-bearing rocks. After analyzing the rocks in the lab, his team reported in 2011 that the end-Permian likely lasted less than 200,000 years. However, this timeframe still wasn’t precise enough to draw any conclusions about what caused the extinction.

Now, the team has revised its estimates using more accurate dating techniques based on a better understanding of uncertainties in timescale measurements.

With this knowledge, Bowring and his colleagues reanalyzed rock samples collected from five volcanic ash beds at the Permian-Triassic boundary. The researchers pulverized rocks and separated out tiny zircon crystals containing a mix of uranium and lead. They then isolated uranium from lead, and measured the ratios of both isotopes to determine the age of each rock sample.

From their measurements, the researchers determined a much more precise “age model” for the end-Permian extinction, which now appears to have lasted about 60,000 years — with an uncertainty of 48,000 years — and was immediately preceded by a sharp increase in carbon dioxide in the oceans.

‘Spiraling toward the truth’

The new timeline adds weight to the theory that the extinction was triggered by massive volcanic eruptions from the Siberian Traps that released volatile chemicals, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere and oceans. With such a short extinction timeline, Bowring says it is possible that a single, catastrophic pulse of magmatic activity triggered an almost instantaneous collapse of all global ecosystems.

To confirm whether the Siberian Traps are indeed the extinction’s smoking gun, Burgess and Bowring plan to determine an equally precise timeline for the Siberian Traps eruptions, and will compare it to the new extinction timeline to see where the two events overlap. The researchers will investigate additional areas in China to see if the duration of the extinction can be even more precisely determined.

“We’ve refined our approach, and now we have higher accuracy and precision,” Bowring says. “You can think of it as slowly spiraling in toward the truth.”

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damn suv’s and humans, they even ruined the planet before they existed.

cirby

“released volatile chemicals, including carbon dioxide”
Yeah- ignore all of that sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride.
It was the increase in CO2 that did the trick. Obviously.

R.long
Tom J

“How do you kill 96 percent of everything that lived in the oceans in tens of thousands of years? It could be that an exceptional extinction requires an exceptional explanation.”
Maybe an exceptional explanation requires an exceptional scientist?

higley7

Much more likely is that the tons of sulfur oxides released by rampant vulcanism not only caused a nuclear winter, due to sulfur aerosols acting to block solar energy inout, but also acidified the oceans. Sulfur oxides form sulfurous and sulfuric acid, the latter being a very strong acid. CO2, on the other hand, forms carbonic acid which is a very weak acid. It will have little effect on sea water. This is perfectly clear when it is considered that the Cliffs of Dover were built by marine organisms growing happily under much higher CO2 concentrations than now. That’s a lot of limestone for organisms that are supposed to be dying. Rather CO2 is food to photo synthesizing organisms and they long ago evolved the ability to handle slight changes in pH carbonic acid might offer.
The warmists put little value in the physiological power of living organisms to withstand and thrive in their environments. If marine life was as delicate as they would have it all such life would have died eons ago. Instead, most of it is still here.
ANd, for that matter, it should not go unmentioned that no gas of any kind at any concentration in the atmosphere can heat Earth’s surface as the warmists claim. “Greenhouse” gases simply do not exist as their claimed behavior violates the basic laws of thermodynamics.

Solomon Green

If volcanic eruptions can be strong enough to eliminate 96% of marine species and 70% of life on land, why do climate models place so little emphasis on them?

“With such a short extinction timeline, Bowring says it is possible that a single, catastrophic pulse of magmatic activity triggered an almost instantaneous collapse of all global ecosystems.”
Only a crazed person could claim 12,000 to 108,000 years was “almost instantaneous.”

John Tillman

Naturally CO2 is fingered as the bad guy. Never mind that the Traps also released loads of sulfur.
Another team at MIT blames acid rain:
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/permian-acid-rain-extinction-112513.html
In fact, there is more evidence for cooling as a result of the Traps eruptions than catastrophic warming, although both could have occurred.
Another recent paper attributes the Late Cambrian “dead interval” during which diversification in life seems to have stalled to CO2-derived volcanism & global warming, despite good evidence for tropical glaciation at that time:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129522.600-volcanic-mayhem-drove-major-burst-of-evolution.html#.UvokP_ldWSo
http://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/20/11/article/i1052-5173-20-11-4.htm

David L.

Of course CO2 is to blame. When I was in academia I noticed everyone naturally looked around to see what was being funded and then tried to justify their research in those terms. The less honorable academics really stretched the imagination to justify how their research fit into some orthogonal pot of funding.
These days a lot of folks are feeding at the CO2 trough.
In my day it was “Star Wars Defense” and much funding could be gotten for anything you could do with a laser, even if it had nothing to do with defense.

Tom G(ologist)

Is there a link to any paper, or was this science reporting by press release? I find it curious that the dating of the end-Permian extinction using detrital zircon (a very reliable method if you have good stratigraphic control, and it appears they might) has a margin of error of 48,000 yr. so they are unable to pin down precisely the duration of the time slice, but they ARE able to say without qualification that there was a strong acidification of the oceans 10,000 yr before that time. With an error margin which could result in the 60,000 yr.duration being anywhere from 12,000 to 108,000 yr. I would be interested to see how they measured the 10,000 yr. time BEFORE the event for which they used the detrital zircon from volcanic ash, and what chemical methods they used to determine that 1). there was an acidification of the oceans; and 2) that acidification resulted from carbon. I am not saying these things can not be concluded, but it is curious that the whole crux of their publication – that there is a ‘smoking gun’ for the End-Permian mass extinction, is simply glossed over. If they did that research, then this is a very poorly reported finding and exactly the reason we have scientific journals – so researches can publish their full research rather than publicize the glamorous facets of their conclusions.

Tom G(ologist)

Hey David L;
“In my day it was “Star Wars Defense” and much funding could be gotten for anything you could do with a laser, even if it had nothing to do with defense.”
Don’t knock it. At least we got CD and DVD players – and those little cat amusing laser pointers 😉

negrum

This paper would be best appreciated by Spielberg and Lucas 🙂

milodonharlani

kcrucible says:
February 11, 2014 at 5:26 am
It´s all relative. The two previous major mass extinction events happened over a lot longer time than that.
The Late Devonian MEE might have lasted as much as 20 million years, occurring in pulses, the Ordovician perhaps half as long or less.

milodonharlani

Tom G(ologist) says:
February 11, 2014 at 5:35 am
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/04/1317692111.abstract

Ken Hall

Whatever survived such a “rapid” global extinction, must have carried the genes required for rapid adaptation to major shifts in climate, shifts which were several orders of magnetude greater than what we are experiencing currently.
I am heartened that all life on earth today has descended from those survivors and as such, will carry genes which allow rapid evolutionary adaptation.
This shows that there is nothing to fear from a small increase in a beneficial trace gas in the atmophere.

“It´s all relative. The two previous major mass extinction events happened over a lot longer time than that.”
That as may be. Even the shorter of the time scales is longer than we have recorded history. Adaptation is a given, not the scare story of “instantaneous collapse” which justifies any action.
Basically anything that happens over a long period of time should not be called an “event.” It’s not an event. It’s a paradigm shift.

KevinM

“…the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years … We’ve got the extinction nailed in absolute time and duration.”
Titter. GWB nailed mission accomplished, give or take 8 years.

Hoser

Are we sure there wasn’t also an impact associated with or possibly triggering the volcanic episode? An impact would be more likely to have an instantaneous effect. A deep ocean impact would minimize an impact debris layer. Is there any evidence of large waves?

Further comment: I’d wager that humanity causes an extinction event via war and weaponry long before the next 12,000 years and that one is more likely to be a rapid change.

GeeJam

“. . . . was triggered by massive volcanic eruptions from the Siberian Traps that released volatile chemicals, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere and oceans.”
So, when did CO2 become volatile?
Maybe I’m nit-picking here. In scientific terms, chemicals which are ‘volatile’ are said to evaporate at normal room temperature. As volcanic CO2 originates from the super-heated bowls of the Earth, it surely cannot evaporate any more. Only if it originates from a very cold source, can CO2 evaporate. Example: If I remove the ice-cold bottle of fizzy lemonade from our refrigerator and unscrew the top, all that ‘volatile’ man-made gas trapped inside will evaporate. Agreed.
Incidentally, maybe the researchers should re-visit their conclusions and consider that, whatever disputed form of armageddon caused all that ‘mass-extinction, quite apart from the putrid smell, a charnel pit full of rotting brontosaur corpses give off an intoxicating amount of CO2. There. Theory solved.

Hoser

I guess memory partially serves. I found this story
http://www.astrobio.net/exclusive/969/piecing-together-a-permian-impact
and lots more – GIYF.

KevinM

BTW: Where did all that CO2 go? What with only 30 pct of the plants left.
I believe in the volcano CO2, but half the story is missing.

milodonharlani

kcrucible says:
February 11, 2014 at 5:59 am
A lot of people believe that humans & climate change have been causing an extinction event for the past 50,000 years. I don’t think the extinction rate during that time qualifies the late Pleistocene & Holocene extinctions as a mass event, however.
To geologists & paleontologists, observed changes over time frames on the order of ten or a hundred thousand years are indeed events. The less than 200,000 year existence of anatomically modern humans covers .004 percent of earth history.

Tom in Florida

“Now researchers at MIT have determined that the end-Permian extinction occurred over 60,000 years, give or take 48,000 years — practically instantaneous, from a geologic perspective”
And 30 years is accepted as the time frame for climate changes.

Andy E.

A gas of a sort, yes possibly. Volcanic eruptions, yes possibly. 60,000 years, yes possibly. Carbon dioxide exclusively, unlikely. Look forward to further research to determine more about that. And I would like to know how they can determine with such precision, on this time distance, that the gas was in the oceans “immediately preceding”.

beng

Yeah, right. It was CO2 that “acidified” the oceans, not sulfur dioxide. /sarc

Jack Maloney

“…will compare it to the new extinction timeline to see where the two events overlap. ”
Correlation does not imply causation.

Grant A. Brown

CO2 molecule threatens humankind: Women disproportionately affected!

Gilbert K. Arnold

Kcrucible @ 5:26 am says:
From the standpoint of geological time scales, that’s a time of about 1.2 seconds. (assuming 4.5 bn years = 1 day). Is that close enough for instantaneous for you?

John Boles

The key message being that CO2 is a “volatile” pollutant, they are trying to psych everyone in to a new meme.

A long time ago I was told in high school chemistry that Sulfuric acid is more than 100000 times more acid than CO2 dissolved in water. How do they know the volcanoes emitted only CO2, and not a smidgeon of Sulfur?

Gilbert K. Arnold

Just for comparison: Assuming and age of approxiimately 2. 2 million years for the first humans on Earth, human beings did not show up in the geologic record till about 45 seconds before midnight. We are truly “Johnny-come-lately’s” btw: the figures are not exact ,but are just for relative purposes.

JimS

Yup, John Boles, they are getting desperate – demonizing CO2 for past catastrophic climate changes. We can expect more and more of this nonsense as the pause continues.

Eric

How does anyone believe any of this. These pseudo scientists always say 95% of species were eliminated during every extinction. At least come up with a new number if want some credibility.

mike fowle

Negrum says:
This paper would be best appreciated by Spielberg and Lucas 🙂
Yes, I thought I was reading a Hollywood script as well.

Gilbert K. Arnold

GeeJam: Dinosaurs did not show up in great numbers until after the end-Permian extinction event. ie. in the early Triassic.

Pamela Gray

hmmm. A pulse of light carbon with a jump to “likely” reflects a “massive” addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What if it was just carbon soot from all those burning forests? Sounds like a massive particulate aerosol load into the atmosphere which created freezing temperatures. To use their word, it “likely” has nothing to do with CO2 and everything to do with what we know happens when huge volcanic eruptions obscure the sun with soot and ash (and any CO2 from catastrophic hemispheric burnnig stuff pales in comparison to the atmospheric muck). If that same load drastically reduced equatorial solar shortwave infrared (IE what gets to the surface after slogging through that thick atmosphere) we would also have reduced energy recharge into the oceans.
Upticks in atmospheric or oceanic CO2, even big ones, won’t lead to rapid catastrophic die off in sea life or flora and fauna. No Sun and cold land and ocean temperatures will. Ask the manatees in Florida.

milodonharlani

Hoser says:
February 11, 2014 at 5:56 am
A crater has long been searched for, but not found. Ocean floor is almost all less than 200 million years old (let alone 250 M), so odds of finding a crater if it existed are low.
Possibility exists that the Siberian Traps themselves were started by an impact however. This is unlikely, though, since a bolide crashing clear through continental crust to the mantle would on its own probably produce an abrupt mass extinction event.

Eric Barnes

Solomon Green says:
February 11, 2014 at 5:24 am
If volcanic eruptions can be strong enough to eliminate 96% of marine species and 70% of life on land, why do climate models place so little emphasis on them?


Because they haven’t figured out how to tax volcanoes yet.

Alan the Brit

There you have it, CO2 is NOW a volatile chemical!!!

Pamela Gray

AND…if they found light carbon it was from organic matter which is isotopically light. It likely did not come from CO2 being taken in by the oceans.

Pamela Gray

Took seconds to find a source that explains light carbon. And I “likely” am less qualified to know this about light carbon than the authors. Which says far more about the authors than it says about me.
http://ethomas.web.wesleyan.edu/ees123/carboniso.htm

mkelly

Addition of CO₂
The addition (or removal) of CO₂ to a solution does not change the alkalinity. This is because the net reaction produces the same number of equivalents of positively contributing species (H+) as negative contributing species (HCO₃- and/or CO₃²-).
At neutral pH values:
CO₂ + H₂O → HCO₃− + H+
At high pH values:
CO₂ + H₂O → HCO₃ ²- + 2H+
So there you have it. Next time a Warming “chicken little” screams at you about “ocean acidification” and CO2, just point out that the ocean is alkaline and adding more CO2 to the ocean does not change the alkalinity at all… and wait for it…
The above from a recent Chiefo post. http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/co2-makes-the-ocean-more-alkaline/

Gilbert K. Arnold

Eric @ 6:42 am says
There have been 5 major extinction events in the geologic record.
1) Odrovician-Silurian event (439 mya) 25% of all marine life and 60% of all marine genera
2) Late-Devonian event (364 mya) 22% of all marine families and 57% of all marine genera.
3) Permian-Triassic event (251 mya) The Biggie: 95% of all species including 57% of all marine families 84% of all marine genera and 70% of land species (plants, insects and vertebrates
4) end-Triassic even (199-214 mya) 22% of all marine families, 56% of marine genera, and an unknown percent of vertebrates
5) Cretaceouse-Tertiary [K-T] (65 mya) 46% of marine families, 47% marine genera and 19% of land vertebrates (yes that includes the dinosaurs)
So they are not claiming each event killed off 95% of species for each event.
mya – million years ago
ref: http://www.endangeredspeciesinternational.org/overview.html

bubbagyro

I TOTALLY blame it on Gamma-ray bursts or a stray rogue planet coming too close. I saw it on the Weather Channel.(/sarc)

sabretruthtiger

“volatile chemicals, including carbon dioxide” This alone shows the agenda behind the article.
There are other much more toxic and climate inducing molecules released by volcanic activity yet the one emphasised is CO2.

urederra

Oh, it is published in PNAS, say no more.
And mkelly, you are wrong. HCl also produces the same number of positively and negatively charged species. It is the production of H+ what reduces the pH.

jim in its finally stopped raining in South London and im on night shift this week.

Carbon Dioxide equals Plant Food

rockdoc

Zircon U-Pb geochronology has resulted in many conflicting analyses and interpretations. There are a number of reasons for errors not the least of which is inheritance which might be a problem when using zircons from ash beds (zircons are quite resiliant so actually may be older than the ash bed itself). Largely the results come down to an interpretation of the amount of scatter of individual measures and decisions made on inclusion or exclusion of data.
Bowring (co-author of this latest report) was in the centre of an argument regarding U-Pb zircon geochron for the P/T boundary sometime ago. Roland Mundil from Berkeley Geochronology Centre had argued that Bowring (who ended up with a younger date for the P/T boundary ) had conducted arbitrary data culling whereby he tossed out half of his measurements before averging the remainder. Bowring disagreed and the end result, of course, is uncertainty.
Just because this paper is more recent doesn’t make it more correct than previous work. It is an interpretation of data fraught with potential error.