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Earth/Environment

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

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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

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