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Acidifying oceans helped fuel mass extinction

Great die-off 250 million years ago could trace in part to waters' change in pH

By
11:25am, September 5, 2011

The question of what killed most life on Earth 250 million years ago is a veritable Murder on the Orient Express, with multiple characters all dealing part of the deathblow. Now, scientists have learned how one of the assassins — acid — could have performed its part of the deed.

High levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would have turned the oceans more than acidic enough to kill off marine critters, a computer simulation indicates.

“This would have been another stressor in the system that might have pushed things toward extinction,” says Alvaro Montenegro, a climate modeler at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He and his colleagues describe the finding in a paper published online August 2 in Paleoceanography.

At the end of the Permian period of geologic time, more than 90 percent of marine species and three-quarters of terrestrial species vanished. Leading suspects in the die-off include ox

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