Were Siberian Volcanoes Responsible for Permian Extinction Event?

New research adds more information to the long discussed cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction event by looking into the possibility that Earth’s largest known extinction event was caused by a massive eruption of the Siberian Traps.

The research, published January 9 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, offers new insight into just how this volcanism could have contributed to the mass die-off some 250 million years ago.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event is also known as the Great Dying, due to the fact that up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial species were lost. The fossil record suggests that Earth’s fauna did not get back onto their feet for many million years after the peak of the event, suggesting that environmental conditions may have remained hostile during that time.

Planetsave has addressed the Great Dying several times in the past year, check out past news below:

Biggest Extinction Event Caused by Volcanoes
CO2 Increase Linked to World’s Largest Extinction
Permian Extinction Disastrous for Land-based Animals

The idea that volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps – the result of a massive eruptive event believed to have lasted for a million years, spanning the Permian-Triassic boundary – is one of the causes for the Great Dying is not a new theory. Scientists have suggested that gases released as a result of the event could have caused environmental damage, possibly ejecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere that reflected the sun’s heat back into space, or possibly ejecting chlorine and halogens into the atmosphere which then damaged the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

Both are possibilities, and were the focus of the research teams studies, led by Benjamin Black of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and including Elkins-Tanton, formerly of MIT and now director of Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Michael C. Rowe of Washington State University, and Ingrid Ukstins Peate of the University of Iowa.

The team investigated concentrations of sulfur, chlorine and fluorine from the Siberian Traps, providing a record of volcanic gases from the time of the eruption 250 million years ago. They found that between 6,300 and 7,800 gigatonnes of sulfur, between 3,400 and 8,700 gigatonnes of chlorine, and between 7,100 and 13,700 gigatonnes of fluorine were released from magma in the Siberian Traps during the end of the Permian period.

If these elements made it into the upper atmosphere, it is entirely plausible that these gases could have caused real problems.

The researchers believe that more research on atmospheric chemistry and climate modeling is needed to determine whether these gasses could have been responsible for the Permian-Triassic extinction event.

Source: Carnegie Institute for Science
Image Source: Narisa Spaulding

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