Extinction can happen over hundreds of thousands of years

Also see this warning from phys.org: 2010-6-23. Lin Edwards. Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2012) — A painstakingly detailed investigation shows that mass extinctions need not be sudden events. The deadliest mass extinction of all took a long time to kill 90 percent of Earth’s marine life, and it killed in stages, according to a newly published report.

Thomas J. Algeo, professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati, took a high-resolution look at the geology of a Permian-Triassic boundary section on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. Their analysis, published Feb. 3 in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, provides strong evidence that Earth’s biggest mass extinction phased in over hundreds of thousands of years.

About 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, Earth almost became a lifeless planet. Around 90% of all living species disappeared, in what scientists call “The Great Dying.”

The world revealed by their research is horrific and alien: a devastated landscape, barren of vegetation and scarred by erosion from showers of acid rain, huge “dead zones” in the oceans, and runaway greenhouse warming leading to sizzling temperatures.

The evidence that Algeo and his colleagues are looking at points to massive volcanism in Siberia. A large portion of western Siberia reveals volcanic deposits up to five kilometers (three miles) thick, covering an area equivalent to the continental United States. And the lava flowed where it could most endanger life, through a large coal deposit.

“The eruption released lots of methane when it burned through the coal,” he said. “Methane is 30 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. We’re not sure how long the greenhouse effect lasted, but it seems to have been tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

MLA University of Cincinnati (2012, February 3). Global extinction: Gradual doom is just as bad as abrupt. ScienceDaily.

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