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Volcanic activity convicted in Permian extinction

Precise timing confirms cause of planet’s largest mass die-off

By
2:00pm, August 28, 2015
ancient lava

MURDEROUS MAGMA  Gases coughed up by the Siberian Traps volcanic eruptions could have triggered the Permian extinction around 252 million years ago, new research demonstrates. Researchers measured the age of the eruptions by analyzing crystals embedded in ancient lavas (shown).

The biggest catastrophe in the history of life on Earth resulted from one of the most titanic volcanic outpourings on record, new research concludes.

At the close of the Permian period around 252 million years ago, more than 90 percent of all marine species and roughly 75 percent of all land species vanished. New high-precision analysis of ancient lavas determines this extinction followed the start of massive volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia, researchers report online August 28 in Science Advances. The finding clinches what paleontologists have long suspected: Volcanic gases prompted environmental changes that made the planet uninhabitable for most life.

The researchers have “found the smoking gun for this extinction event,” says geoscientist Richard Ernst of Carleton University in Ottawa.

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