Researchers find smoking gun of world's biggest extinction

Jan 23, 2011
The coal‑ash particle on the left is from the latest Permian extinction boundary at Buchanan Lake. Nunavut, the particle on the right is from a modern power plant. Credit: Hamed Sanei, NRCan/University of Calgary

About 250 million years about 95 per cent of life was wiped out in the sea and 70 per cent on land. Researchers at the University of Calgary believe they have discovered evidence to support massive volcanic eruptions burnt significant volumes of coal, producing ash clouds that had broad impact on global oceans.

"This could literally be the smoking gun that explains the latest Permian extinction," says Dr. Steve Grasby, adjunct professor in the University of Calgary's Department of Geoscience and research scientist at Natural Resources Canada.

Grasby and colleagues discovered layers of ash in rocks from the extinction boundary in Canada's High Arctic that give the first direct proof to support this and have published their findings in Nature Geoscience.

Unlike end of , 65 million years ago, where there is widespread belief that the impact of a meteorite was at least the partial cause, it is unclear what caused the late . Previous researchers have suggested massive volcanic eruptions through coal beds in Siberia would generate significant causing run away global warming.

"Our research is the first to show direct evidence that massive volcanic eruptions – the largest the world has ever witnessed –caused massive coal combustion thus supporting models for significant generation of greenhouse gases at this time," says Grasby.

At the time of the extinction, the Earth contained one big land mass, a supercontinent known as Pangaea. The environment ranged from desert to lush forest. Four-limbed vertebrates were becoming more diverse and among them were primitive amphibians, early reptiles and synapsids: the group that would, one day, include mammals.

The location of volcanoes, known as the Siberian Traps, are now found in northern Russia, centred around the Siberian city Tura and also encompass Yakutsk, Noril'sk and Irkutsk. They cover an area just under two-million-square kilometers, a size greater than that of Europe. The ash plumes from the volcanoes traveled to regions now in Canada's arctic where coal-ash layers where found.

Researchers walk through sediments deposited shortly after the worst extinction event in earth history, on the shores of Buchanan Lake, Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. Credit: Credit: Steve Grasby, University of Calgary/NRCan

Grasby studied the formations with Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, a professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary. They called upon Dr. Hamed Sanei adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and a researcher at NRCan to look at some of peculiar organic layers they had discovered.

"We saw layers with abundant organic matter and Hamed immediately determined that they were layers of coal-ash, exactly like that produced by modern coal burning power plants," says Beauchamp.

Sanei adds: "Our discovery provides the first direct confirmation for coal ash during this extinction as it may not have been recognized before."

The ash, the authors suggest, may have caused even more trouble for a planet that was already heating up with its oceans starting to suffocate because of decreasing oxygen levels.

"It was a really bad time on Earth. In addition to these volcanoes causing fires through coal, the ash it spewed was highly toxic and was released in the land and water, potentially contributing to the worst event in earth history," says Grasby.

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More information: The article published in Nature Geoscience is entitled: Catastrophic dispersion of coal fly ash into oceans during the latest Permian extinction is by Stephen Grasby, Hamed Sanei and Benoit Beauchamp. The paper can be found here: www.nature.com/ngeo/index.html

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Caliban
4.8 / 5 (20) Jan 23, 2011
If this is confirmed, then it puts to rest a long-standing mystery, freighted with dire portent vis a vis our current situation.
Also just another reminder of just how catastrophic and global natural disasters can be here on this quiet, peaceful big blue marble.
newscience
5 / 5 (7) Jan 23, 2011
When an asteroid hits the moon or earth the shock wave from the impact causes massive volcanic disruptions on the exact opposite side of the planet or moon. You can see these transformed areas on the moon and these same things on earth. If these disrupted area contains coal and sulfur, they can burn for thousands of year. The cause of these great extinctions appears to be two fold. First a massive impact, and after the shock wave makes it to the other side of the planet, massive volcanic areas the size of Europe. So the real theory is asteroids creating massive volcanism on the impacted side of the planet as well as the side opposite the impact.
soulman
2.3 / 5 (13) Jan 23, 2011
When an asteroid hits the moon or earth the shock wave from the impact causes massive volcanic disruptions on the exact opposite side of the planet or moon.

That may be true for smaller moons, but not for larger planets like Earth.
vidar_lund
2.7 / 5 (10) Jan 23, 2011
First a massive impact, and after the shock wave makes it to the other side of the planet, massive volcanic areas the size of Europe. So the real theory is asteroids creating massive volcanism on the impacted side of the planet as well as the side opposite the impact.


This theory is not likely, it would have required a massive impact that should be clearly visible today. Also the Siberian traps were deposited over many thousands of years, the extinction event happened over a period of 80000 years of intense eruptions.
gwrede
1.7 / 5 (12) Jan 23, 2011
Volcanoes spewing coal ash? Just like today's power plants? Awfully convenient.
Pyle
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 23, 2011
This theory is not likely, it would have required a massive impact that should be clearly visible today.

So if the volcanic eruptions were on Pangea, what would be on the other side? Given the substantial plate shift to give us our current continents, under sea evidence of such an impact may be largely obscured.

Just saying...
Scientifica
1.3 / 5 (13) Jan 24, 2011
I knew they would have to throw in the term "run away global warming." They can't get it off their minds...they think that will get them more money and power!
ekim
5 / 5 (13) Jan 24, 2011
Volcanoes spewing coal ash? Just like today's power plants? Awfully convenient.

No, not really. An extinction rate of 95% is really inconvenient. Unless of course your the remaining 5% repopulating the earth.
ekim
5 / 5 (7) Jan 24, 2011
This theory is not likely, it would have required a massive impact that should be clearly visible today.

So if the volcanic eruptions were on Pangea, what would be on the other side? Given the substantial plate shift to give us our current continents, under sea evidence of such an impact may be largely obscured.

Just saying...

Also, an 80,000 year window 250 million years ago seems small. Impacts tend to leave some evidence behind, even without an actual crater. The theory is testable.
Caliban
5 / 5 (4) Jan 24, 2011
Volcanoes spewing coal ash? Just like today's power plants? Awfully convenient.


I'm not 100% certain, but I believe that this massive complex of volcanoes erupted through overlying strata of coal. I don't think that they meant to say that the volcanoes were actually erupting coal, as they would lava, steam, ash, and gases.
kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (30) Jan 24, 2011
The only total extinction event that occurred was the global flood.

The forces unleashed in the "bursting of the springs of the deep" would have been incredible since the crust of the earth split in several places, spewing forth gigantic amounts of hot water. Since everything was covered - including mountains, everything [man, birds, animals] perished except the fish/sea creatures since they could swim.

In the aftermath of the flood, as the incredibly massive amounts of waters receded, it carved out the great canyons of the world - grand canyon, fish river canyon, blyde river canyon etc., all over the world. It also led to the rapid burial of huge amounts of animals,witnessed by the great bone yards for thousands of dinos.

Then the highly saturated warm air led to the one great ice age.

This is THE one huge catastrophy that hit earth. Scientist are now putting it all together bit by bit, whether they want to acknowledge the flood [and hence God] or not. It's inescapable.
kevinrtrs
1.2 / 5 (18) Jan 24, 2011
Note that splitting of the earth crust means that there were earthquakes and volcanic activity of immeasurable violence.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (10) Jan 24, 2011
Note that splitting of the earth crust means that there were earthquakes and volcanic activity of immeasurable violence.


I don't think I've ever heard anyone doubt that earthquakes and volcanoes were capable of disaster on a scale that dwarfs what we consider to be destruction.
Caliban
4.3 / 5 (18) Jan 24, 2011
The only total extinction event that occurred was the global flood.

The forces unleashed in the "bursting of the springs of the deep" would have been incredible since the crust of the earth split in several places, spewing forth gigantic amounts of hot water. Since everything was covered - including mountains, everything [man, birds, animals] perished except the fish/sea creatures since they could swim.

Then the highly saturated warm air led to the one great ice age.

[...]

This is THE one huge catastrophy that hit earth. Scientist are now putting it all together bit by bit, whether they want to acknowledge the flood [and hence God] or not. It's inescapa


Is that so....if there was total extinction, then how the hell did we get here?

I "appreciate" your committment to this fantasy, but you really should at least try to pay attention to what you write.

Y'all'll have to forgive young Kev, he "ain't right" since his mama dropped him on his haid.

kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (20) Jan 24, 2011
You ignore the fact that Noah, his wife and three sons and their wives were on the ark.
This by the way creates the ideal genetic bottleneck as observed in the current genetic record we have.
This also accounts for the wide but genetically limited diversity we see among our well known friends the dogs[and cats, etc.]
Perhaps Caliban, you should be the one re-examining the evolutionary fantasy you so clearly subscribe to....
kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (21) Jan 24, 2011
Caliban, ask yourself the same question - "then how the hell did we get here?". There is no naturalistic explanation for the existence of life[on earth]. Scientists have been scratching holes in their heads for about a hundred years now trying to make that physical impossibility happen - somehow. So perhaps you should be asking yourself just how did we get here? I know a perfectly acceptable answer. Do you?
twango
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 24, 2011
Two problems with 'perfectly acceptable knowing' based in belief: 1. It's not perfectly acceptable unless you believe; 2. Some belief authority can decide to change what you must 'know' and you have to submit to that.

The alternative is knowing based in evidence instead of belief. The evidence is available to anyone willing to take the time. The evidence can't be erased by authorities. Of course the *interpretation* of that evidence is still subject to group authority, but it's a group authority based in knowledge and experience, not a whim.

The result is that you are sending your messages with a computer instead of scratching a piece of charcoal on birchbark. If you don't like science, cleanse yourself of its demonic influence!
soulman
3.9 / 5 (15) Jan 24, 2011
Kev, do you? Nope. At least we have the laws of physics that makes it all possible, while you just have fairytales and willful ignorance.
MikeyK
4.7 / 5 (3) Jan 24, 2011
Interesting post. there is evidence for the 'impact one side, massive lava flow the other' theory. The meteor strike 65,000,000 years ago was opposite the Deccan Traps and the Siberian Traps are opposite where this meteoric crater woud have been at the time htt(DELETEME)p://www.space.com/2452-giant-crater-tied-worst-mass-extinction.html.
When you consider how thin the Earths crust is relative to the planets side and all that hot liquid stuff a few miles beneath our feet, then it is not so fanciful as it may appear.
Ethelred
4.7 / 5 (13) Jan 24, 2011
The only total extinction event that occurred was the global flood
When was this Flood Kevin?
incredible since the crust of the earth
So incredible it not only left no evidence at all it also would have boiled the Ark and everyone on it.
Since everything was covered - including mountains, everything [man, birds, animals] perished
And when did this happen Kevin? You know so much about surely you can answer WHEN.
grand canyon
Sorry Kevin that is excellent evidence for a very old world and occasional flooding over MILLIONS of years.
great bone yards for thousands of dinos
That died MILLIONS of years ago. So they too are evidence the world is old.
highly saturated warm air led to the one great ice age.
Contradictory and blatantly so. Besides we have ample evidence of MULTIPLE ice ages ALL older than you think the world is.
It's inescapable
So when was it Kevin?

The Bible has it during the same time the Egyptian built the pyramids.

Ethelred
Ethelred
4.8 / 5 (13) Jan 24, 2011
You ignore the fact that Noah, his wife and three sons and their wives were on the ark
You ignore that fact that the Bible has the Flood occurring during written history. That our genes show we did NOT have one male ancestor 4400 years ago or four sets of Mitochondrial DNA 4400 years ago.
This by the way creates the ideal genetic bottleneck as observed in the current genetic record we have
It does not. That bottleneck occurred tens of thousands of year ago not 4400 years ago, during written human history.
This also accounts for the wide but genetically limited diversity we see among our well known friends the dogs[and cats
No. They would have MORE diversity than we do because the count as clean animals and thus would have had 7 pairs on the nonexistent ark. Not just ONE patriarch.
you should be the one re-examining the evolutionary fantasy you so clearly subscribe to
You should reexamine human history with an emphasis on PYRAMIDS.

Goodbye Kevin

Ethelred
rgwalther
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 24, 2011
I am terrified by all organized religion and all of the silly/dangerous rules such groups invent and then enforce under pain of death or worse. I spent five years in a Catholic seminary school. Great education except for the requirement to 'believe stupid shit or die part'.

Point is this. If there is an infinite God, and for some human reason, he/she/it is/was in a hurry; then creating a world artificially imbued with all of the scientific markers in place to show evolution, age etc. would be just another day at the office for such a divinity. Why such an omnipotent, infinite, ageless, timeless power would need to resort to such methods is more inexplicable than any divine nature of such a divinity.

Fundamantalist religious types apparently believe that infinite power is subjected to the same hormonal urges as a 12 year boy.
I feel pretty sure that these erratic, hormonal motivations lie solely in the genes of the clerics and staff, including Count de Monet.
Javinator
4.7 / 5 (10) Jan 24, 2011
This by the way creates the ideal genetic bottleneck as observed in the current genetic record we have.


How did all of the descendants from this one family evolve into the many different races we have today in just a few thousand years?
A_Paradox
5 / 5 (5) Jan 24, 2011
newscience, ekim, MikeyK,

I know, from what happened to my father some years ago that the medical term for this shock-waves-focusing-on-the-opposite-side phenomenon is "contra coup". In his case a hard impact to his forehead caused a compression injury inside his skull directly opposite. Without cranial surgery to drain the resulting build up of blood and CS fluid he would have died within about 8 hours. Not nice.

Meanwhile I think it is more than feasible that such a large impact [as the Antarctica one for example - and thank you MikeyK] could destabilize the crust on the other side of the planet or provoke a plume from off the boundary of the mantle and the liquid iron outer core of the planet.

This would imply that the secondary effects of the impact could last for hundreds of thousands or even many millions of years.
Paljor
4.7 / 5 (12) Jan 24, 2011
Your 'great flood' seems to have missed the ancient indians, china, india, australia, and egypt. If we were all descended from noah and his wife and 3 daughters there would be a lot more of us in the hospital because of the harmful defect genes passed down. There was however a flood that happened at the time (I think) You see back then the black sea had overfilled itself (or was it the caspian?) and flooded southward. It would have missed all the peoples i have mentioned above but hit the middle east roughly where noah (if he is a real person) was. Oh. and kevinrtrs please tell me about the genetic bottlenecks that i don't see in every land-based creature on this planet! (true on some creatures there is a bottleneck but have all of them had a bottleneck at the same time?)
alq131
4 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2011
What no one is addressing,nor did the article, is that obviously the earth recovered. How? How long did it take? The predominant view is that life is a good CO2 scrubber. So if 95% of land life and 70% of marine life died then how fast was the repopulation and is it correlated to a similar decrease in CO2?

Is there something we can learn about this event that would give us an idea of the elasticity of the climate and the influence of life. Seems like it would be a good starting point to say that the worst greenhouse conditions EVER, happened 250M years ago...and how did earth recover.
trekgeek1
4.1 / 5 (9) Jan 25, 2011
You ignore the fact that Noah, his wife and three sons and their wives were on the ark.


Getting a little flimsy with the word "fact" aren't we? I'm pretty sure this "genetic bottleneck" didn't happen 10,000 years ago either. At the very very very least, you'd have to concede that the earth is millions of years old to even have the ark story line up with observed phenomena. You must feel so scared. Your whole religion is on the verge of collapse in the face of evidence and reason. I see why you act so crazy. I'm serious too, I really feel for you and I understand how uncomfortable it must be for you. I bet there are times when your own thoughts betray your beliefs while you read these articles. Perhaps you even doubt the Bible, which scares you because you think you'll go to hell.
Caliban
4 / 5 (4) Jan 25, 2011
What no one is addressing,nor did the article, is that obviously the earth recovered. How? How long did it take? The predominant view is that life is a good CO2 scrubber. So if 95% of land life and 70% of marine life died then how fast was the repopulation and is it correlated to a similar decrease in CO2?

Is there something we can learn about this event that would give us an idea of the elasticity of the climate and the influence of life. Seems like it would be a good starting point to say that the worst greenhouse conditions EVER, happened 250M years ago...and how did earth recover.


Do a search for "Permian Extinction" and "Cambrian Explosion". You'll find all the relevant info required to answer that question, within reason.
It would be difficult, but not impossible -theoretically, at least- to quantify the CO2 increase/decrease, but I'm not sure that anyone has gotten around to that yet, with any exactitude.
Bog_Mire
4 / 5 (8) Jan 25, 2011
Kev strike again! Another decent science article destroyed in a few posts. His work done, an elated Kev wanders off into the ether.
Pyle
5 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2011
and how did earth recover


Likely all that is relevant from the Earth's recovery 250 million years ago to our current situation is the thousands or tens of thousands of years it took the Earth to recover.

We're better off if we don't replicate the effects of this proposed volcanic doom's day event.
Gawad
5 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2011
What no one is addressing,nor did the article, is that obviously the earth recovered. How? How long did it take?
Depends on what you qualify as "recovery". However, assuming that this is taken to mean a return to a pre-extinction level of species diversity we're talking about 5 million years. Even then estimates vary widely and I've seen numbers quoted as high as 30 million years (though that seemed really extreme). Here's a paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that deals with the recovery from the Great Dying:

httpDELETE ME://www.pnas.org/content/96/16/8827.full

GaryB
not rated yet Jan 28, 2011
The real drag about volcanic vs asteroid extinctions is that it may be possible to divert an asteroid, but how does one divert a super magma plume? In any case, we won't be hit by one of those for a verrrry long time.
A_Paradox
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
GaryB, did you "touch wood" when you wrote that?

No, of course not, after all it's bad luck to be superstitious, is'nt it! :-) But I think all inhabitants of North America should give thought to what lies under Yellowstone National Park. As I understand it, there is enough hot magma there to power North America for the next several thousand years. The trick will be to sink water filled shafts down BESIDE the magma plume, not straight into the top. Going straight into the top of it would release the pressure causing a runaway catastrophe. Going into the side [using robotics/remote control] will enable control of the pressure release and capture of the heat energy.
TheWalrus
5 / 5 (6) Jan 29, 2011
"This could literally be the smoking gun that explains the latest Permian extinction," says Dr. Steve Grasby, who doesn't know what "literally" means.
LuckyBrandon
3 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2011
@kevintrs-wow man, I don't think I've even seen anyone stoop to your level of ignorance. no global flood occurred, as geological evidence clearly shows. the genetic bottleneck was at a few thousand people...so unless noah and his boys 900-1100 wives EACH, that is also not plausible.
and as far as the whole ark bs...it is not possible to build a wooden ship capable of holding 2 of every single species on earth...and I won't even get into the fact that if you only have 2 of each species, they have children, then all these "children" can do to expand the species is each other, which would be direct incest, which would retard the species ENTIRELY, and likely lead to its collapse. Since we have species now exactly the same as then (minus a few that went extinct of course), this is another nail in the coffin of that fantasy.
Think logically....
stealthc
1 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2011
WTF, how on earth did this silly AGW propaganda article degenerate into a religious debate from a nutbar that thinks you can navigate seas of boiling water with an ark? LMAO!!! You have got to be kidding me, I don't even think I'll justify this one with an ounce of debate of than to say the "run away global warming" sounds like the stupid powers that be grasping at straws... guess it wasn't so bad if 5% survived.