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A killer methane belch, radon-siphoning trees, deep oil-spill science and more in this week’s news

11:30am, July 23, 2011

Killer carbon burp
A big belch of carbon may be to blame for the mass extinction that swept the planet around 200 million years ago. A new study of wax from fossilized plants of the time suggests that 12 trillion tons of methane gas entered the atmosphere over just a few tens of thousands of years. Volcanic eruptions may have put enough heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air to warm methane frozen in the seafloor and allow it to belch to the surface, a team led by Micha Ruhl of Utrecht University in the Netherlands writes in the July 22 Science. The extinction, which ended the Triassic period, shifted ecosystems in such a way that dinosaurs were able to dominate the planet. —Alexandra Witze

Ancient diamonds reveal crust’s moves
Diamonds from deep within the Earth suggest that the planet had begun its system of plate tectonics, in which great crustal plates shift across the surface, by 3 billio

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