Earth's massive extinction: The story gets worse

Jan 05, 2012
Dr. Hamed Sanei analyzes chemical records of the sedimentary rocks deposited during the Latest Permian Extinction event. Dr. Sanei is a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary. Credit: University of Calgary/Riley Brandt.

Scientists have uncovered a lot about the Earth's greatest extinction event that took place 250 million years ago when rapid climate change wiped out nearly all marine species and a majority of those on land. Now, they have discovered a new culprit likely involved in the annihilation: an influx of mercury into the eco-system.

"No one had ever looked to see if mercury was a potential culprit. This was a time of the greatest volcanic activity in Earth's history and we know today that the largest source of mercury comes from ," says Dr. Steve Grasby, co-author of a paper published this month in the journal Geology. "We estimate that the mercury released then could have been up to 30 times greater than today's , making the event truly catastrophic." Grasby is a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, professor of geology at the University of Calgary, says this study is significant because it's the first time mercury has been linked to the cause of the massive extinction that took place during the end of the Permian.

", including myself should be taking notes and taking another look at the other five big extinction events," says Beauchamp, also a co-author.

This graphic shows historical variations of Mercury (Hg) deposition before and after the Latest Permian Extinction event as recorded in a sedimentary section in the High Arctic, Canada.  The vertical axis demonstrates the depth of the sedimentary section relative to the extinction boundary while the horizontal looks at the amount of mercury accumulation (concentration in the rock) as measured in milligram per kilogram. Credit: Hamed Sanei, Steve Grasby and Benoit Beauchamp. (Sanei et al., 2012, Geology).

During the late Permian, the natural buffering system in the ocean became overloaded with mercury contributing to the loss of 95 per cent of life in the sea.

"Typically, algae acts like a scavenger and buries the mercury in the sediment, mitigating the effect in the oceans," says lead-author Dr. Hamed Sanei, research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Calgary. "But in this case, the load was just so huge that it could not stop the damage."

About 250 million years ago, a time long before dinosaurs ruled and when all land formed one big continent, the majority of life in the ocean and on land was wiped out. The generally accepted idea is that volcanic eruptions burned though coal beds, releasing CO2 and other deadly toxins. Direct proof of this theory was outlined in a paper that was published by these same authors last January in Nature Geoscience.

The mercury deposition rates could have been significantly higher in the late Permian when compared with today's human-caused emissions. In some cases, levels of mercury in the late Permian ocean was similar to what is found near highly contaminated ponds near smelters, where the aquatic system is severely damaged, say researchers.

"We are adding to the levels through industrial emissions. This is a warning for us here on Earth today," adds Beauchamp. Canada has taken a lead role in reducing emissions internationally. In North America, at least, there has been a steady decline through regulations controlling .

No matter what happens, this study shows life's tenacity. "The story is one of recovery as well. After the system was overloaded and most of life was destroyed, the oceans were still able to self clean and we were able to move on to the next phase of life," says Sanei.

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jsn3604
2 / 5 (14) Jan 05, 2012
I guess that's a problem for CFL bulbs.
Vendicar_Decarian
4.1 / 5 (23) Jan 05, 2012
It isn't a problem for CFL bulbs at all.

If the energy being consumed comes from burning coal, then CFL bulbs result in a net REDUCTION of mercury.

If you recycle them then they emit NO mercury.

Regular Florescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury too, all those 4 foot and 8 foot bulbs keeping office buildings illuminated contain significantly mercury than CFL bulbs.

A CFL bulb typically contains less that 0.5 mg of mercury.

A Mercury Amalgam tooth filling on the other hand is 50% mercury and a typical single filling puts 15 to 20 times as much mercury directly in your mouth.
Telekinetic
2.9 / 5 (7) Jan 05, 2012
Mad Hatter's waits in the wings...
Andy C
2.8 / 5 (8) Jan 05, 2012
Canada is not an international leader in reducing emissions, in fact the opposite is true. They are the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord.
epsi00
3.3 / 5 (4) Jan 05, 2012
Canada is not an international leader in reducing emissions, in fact the opposite is true. They are the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord.


canada's minister of environment does not what ozone is, seriously. sadly canada is among the worst offender when it comes to pollution here in canada and abroad ( especially canadian mining companies ) and let's not forget the tar sands.

Auxon
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 05, 2012
"releasing CO2 and other deadly toxins"

So, now CO2 is a deadly toxin?

Other than that, this scares me. This is why we have to learn to live in conditions like space, the moon, and other planets: So we could survive on Earth when something like this happens.
kochevnik
3.6 / 5 (10) Jan 05, 2012
Bankers and terminators will inherit the Earth. Terminators are carbon neutral and mercury free.
Davecoolman
2.1 / 5 (15) Jan 06, 2012
Andy C saysL
Canada is not an international leader in reducing emissions, in fact the opposite is true. They are the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord.

When warmist make statements like CO2 is a deadly toxin, and A CFL bulbs are good for the planet, you know who is running the insane asylum?

God I love those Canadians they have become a wise bunch.

Vendicar_Decarian. At last you can be proud as you are a Canadian,don't be ashamed be proud Canada will lead the way out of the IPPC Climate madness!
n0ns3ns0r
3.1 / 5 (14) Jan 06, 2012
CO2 is toxic. Don't take my word for it. Put a plastic bag on your head and find out for yourself. It's a simple experiment... like throwing a witch in water to prove she's not a duck.
Feldagast
2 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2012

Good thing our planets atmosphere is mostly nitrogen then.
Parsec
3.9 / 5 (8) Jan 06, 2012
CO2 is toxic. Don't take my word for it. Put a plastic bag on your head and find out for yourself. It's a simple experiment... like throwing a witch in water to prove she's not a duck.

This isn't really proof. Its really the lack of oxygen as much as the CO2 that is causing the problem in this experiment.

Yes, CO2 is toxic in high concentrations, but I would hesitate to call it a deadly toxin because it takes quite a bit to directly poison you.
NotAsleep
3.7 / 5 (6) Jan 06, 2012
It would be extremely unlikely that we could ever raise CO2 levels to toxic levels on earth, not to mention that the molecule is a requirement for plant life. Hemoglobin's affinity for O2 is strong enough that carbon dioxide production by itself will never realistically affect our quality of life on a macroscopic level.

http://www.popsci...-dioxide

Other pollutants as a result of burning fossil fuels... that's a different question.
Hev
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2012
lots of diamonds produced from that extinction event 250 M YA - that would have locked up some of the CO2 -
rubberman
4.2 / 5 (6) Jan 06, 2012
Canada is not an international leader in reducing emissions, in fact the opposite is true. They are the first country to pull out of the Kyoto Accord.


The comment about reducing emissions was made about mercury directly, not ALL emissions.
http://www.ec.gc....E23E1E-1

The old school T12 linear fluorescents did have a very high mercury content as compared to the new T8 and T5 designs, alot of it had to do with the ballasting being magnetic, as opposed to the T8 and T5 which are now fired by electronic ballasts. None the less, if it is fluorescent, it will have some content.
ShunkW
3.2 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2012
CO2 is certainly toxic in large amounts. Just ask the 2 thousand people killed by it in Cameroon.

"Locally high concentrations of CO2, produced by disturbance of deep lake water saturated with CO2 are thought to have caused 37 fatalities at Lake Monoun, Cameroon in 1984 and 1700 casualties at Lake Nyos, Cameroon in 1986. Emissions of CO2 by human activities are currently more than 130 times greater than the quantity emitted by volcanoes, amounting to about 27 billion tonnes per year."
NotAsleep
4.8 / 5 (6) Jan 06, 2012
ShunkW, that's an isolated event similiar to putting your head in a plastic bag. Volcanic vents supersaturated the lakes with CO2, which were subsequently released by seismic activity. This would've occured with or without any human involvement and has been recorded only twice in history (that I can find)

http://en.wikiped...eruption

I wasn't saying carbon dioxide isn't toxic, I was saying that carbon dioxide poisoning won't be the downfall of an industrial civilization. We'll die of other things long before that happens
NotAsleep
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2012
Also, do some research on whether or not 27 billion "tonnes" per year is really relevant. It's certainly a figure worth mentioning in a report and keeping an eye on but is small compared to total CO2 in the atmosphere and nearly insignificant compared to the amount of Oxygen.

I had done the math for you but my computer restarted and I'm too lazy to redo the numbers... so you're on your own if you really care, which you don't if you're mentioning limnic eruptions in response to my post on global CO2
mikie
1.3 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2012
I think the military should stop spraying chemicals into the air like aluminum and barium mabe then our ozone may have the chance of survival.
GuruShabu
3 / 5 (9) Jan 07, 2012
Parsec, CO2 is NOT a toxin at all.
At very high concentration CO2 may suffocate you because it will replace most of the O2 but even though it is NOT a toxin.
Quite the contrary. It will promote vegetable growth but for the Global Warming fanatics, yes CO2 is a terrible toxin that comes out of your nostrils every time you breath!
Blaspheyou
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2012
Toxin: a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues, and typically capable of inducing antibody formation.

So, technically, CO2 isn't a toxin, but in the context of global warming, it is toxic, and trying to use semantics to invalidate the overwhelming science of global warming is pathetic.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.9 / 5 (10) Jan 07, 2012
"Parsec, CO2 is NOT a toxin at all." - GuruShabu

Then why does your body go to such lengths to rid itself of it?

CO2 is a toxic metabolic waste product.
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2012
Toxic effects of CO2 at various levels of concentration:

http://en.wikiped...Toxicity
dabnabit
1.7 / 5 (12) Jan 07, 2012
CO2 is a trace element in our atmosphere. The amount of CO2 that man adds to that trace amount is insignificant. The earth has had many heating and cooling episodes throughout its existence. Most of these events were long before man even showed up on the scene. The idea that man can effect the temperature of the earth is one of the most preposterous things I have ever heard.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.5 / 5 (14) Jan 07, 2012
"The amount of CO2 that man adds to that trace amount is insignificant." - DabnabiTard

The amount you claim is insignificant has increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 45 percent so far, and that value is rising rapidly.

Perhaps you don't know what the word "insignificant" means.

Please consult a dictionary.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.9 / 5 (10) Jan 07, 2012
Microscopic dots cause disease? Balderdash!

"The idea that man can effect the temperature of the earth is one of the most preposterous things I have ever heard." - DagnabiTard

PhotonX
4.3 / 5 (6) Jan 07, 2012
Mainly though not exclusively @dabnabit:
.
So something just isn't possible because you just can't imagine it? There's a name for that.
.
What does the fact that nature has done something in the past have anything to do with whether or not man is adversly affecting the climate today? Just because nature rolls rocks downhill all the time is no reason to stand beneath a falling piano. At least that's a tacit concession on your part that Earth is > 6000 years old.
.
Also, it's not insignificant that we can measure CO2 levels for the last 750,000 years and haven't seen in all that time as rapid an increase than in the last 200 years. Not just a little faster, orders of magnitude faster. It's exactly *because* CO2 is a low percentage in Earth's atmosphere that we have such a large impact on it.
Juan_Dela_Cruz
1.4 / 5 (11) Jan 07, 2012
Antropologic global warming is a MYTH, period! I would worry of crazy Iranians getting nuclear bombs then threaten to close the strait of Hormuz than what Rev Al Gore is saying, according to James Hansen.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (10) Jan 07, 2012
Antropologic global warming is a MYTH, period

and you base this assertion on...what exactly? Despite all the tons of evidence? Despite even a study funded in part by the Koch brothers (active AGW denialists) coming to the conclusion that it's real?

Are you the last diehard hooldout with your head in the sand on this planet? Must be cool down there.
dabnabit
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 08, 2012
One must drink tons of kool aid on a daily basis to believe in man made global warming. If the earth is warming, which it has in the past to temps far greater than that we have today, it is not caused by our miniscule addition CO2 to the atmosphere. Anybody that says otherwise, simply isn't taking real science into account. The drivel being spouted by the East Anglican's is just that. Pure Drivel. Lies originally perpetuated to enrich the carbon traders and continued today to cover their respective butts so they don't get thrown in jail. The truth is coming out. It took several years to create the MYTH of "Anthropogenic global warming" It will take a few years to dispel it.
NotAsleep
not rated yet Jan 08, 2012
I still don't understand why carbon dioxide is a hot topic here when other things (i.e. the mercury that the article mentions) are significantly more damaging to the environment. Excess water vapor is more damaging than excess carbon dioxide...

Yes, the amount of carbon dioxide that we're pumping into the atmosphere is statistically significant but that's like drowning and saying the dissolved oxygen in the water is statistically significant to how much longer you live
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Jan 08, 2012
I still don't understand why carbon dioxide is a hot topic here when other things (i.e. the mercury that the article mentions) are significantly more damaging to the environment.

Entire coastal cities underwater. Island nations wiped out. Storms that will cause billions (if not trillions) of dollars of damages. That seems to be some significant impact on the environment (something that a slight increase in mercury won't have)
RealScience
5 / 5 (1) Jan 08, 2012
... If the earth is warming... it is not caused by our miniscule addition CO2 to the atmosphere. Anybody that says otherwise, simply isn't taking real science into account.


So you think that the amount of CO2 is TOO SMALL to possibly have any effect?

We have added 110 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere. That is one part in 9000.
The atmosphere weighs 14 lbs per square inch, which is 2000 lbs per square foot or 18,000 lbs per square yard. One part in 9000 of this is 2 lbs per square yard, or 32 oz per square yard.

Blue jeans are typically made from material that is 16 oz per square yard. Stand outside naked in the cold, and I'll stand beside you wearing two pairs of jeans and two jean jackets.
My guess is that you will soon understand that 32 oz/square yard is NOT too small to add warmth.

CO2 is not cotton, but 110 ppm in NOT insignificant. The direct warming effects were calculated over 100 years ago - it is the indirect effect that we are not uncertain of.
RealScience
not rated yet Jan 08, 2012
(Yes, 110 ppm is by volume and CO2 is heavier than air so it is really 48 oz per square yard. But it is the number of CO2 molecules, that matters, not their weight, so the simpler conservative calculation seemed better).
NotAsleep
not rated yet Jan 09, 2012
Yes, yes, I understand the statistics and the physiological effects of carbon dioxide in various concentrations on the body. As part of my job, I'm a subject matter expert on life support systems in extreme environments. No one would question the impact if CO2 levels increased at their current rate for the rest of eternity... even for the next hundred years. The increase in CO2 at its current rate will absolutely be a problem.

However, you don't fix a knife wound by working on individual cells in the body. You tackle the larger problems first as expertly and quickly as possible in the hopes to buy time for the smaller issues later on.

Cutting emissions is almost certainly critical to the future health of our planet. There are a myriad of issues linked together of which CO2 is part of the chain. I guarantee you, though, that global CO2 levels by themselves will not kill you
Humpty
1 / 5 (2) Jan 09, 2012
CO2 is a simple asphyixiant. (Oh for a dictionary)
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2012
mercury is bad directly but not indirectly.
If we stop releasing mercury, it will find its way back where it belongs due to biomagnifcation.
CO2 ofcourse is a complete different story. OH BTW CO2 is only half the story of burning most fuels its the chaotic carbon geometry that causes significant brain damage.
OFcourse its a matter of time before we reach the tipping point, the point whereas forest growth is too much limited and carbon uptake by the ocean gets to limited, when it happens we have a 50/50 chance of turning into mars #2.
Our atmosfere will be so damage we risk loosing protective atmosphere from radiation, when we loose atmosphere we lose the greenhouse effect and earth will cool off , no more geodynamic process. just hoping we have enough surface water to protect us from that.