Driver Identified of the Largest Mass Extinction in the History of the Earth

Carboniferous crinoid

Sessile filter feeders like this Carboniferous crinoid, the mushroom crinoid (Agaricocrinus americanus), were significantly less abundant after the Permian-Triassic extinction. Credit: Vassil – Alias Collections, CC BY-SA 3.0

New study provides a comprehensive reconstruction of the Permian-Triassic boundary event.

Life on Earth has a long, but also an extremely turbulent history. On more than one occasion, the majority of all species became extinct and an already highly developed biodiversity shrank to a minimum again, changing the course of evolution each time. The most extensive mass extinction took place about 252 million years ago. It marked the end of the Permian Epoch and the beginning of the Triassic Epoch. About three quarters of all land life and about 95 percent of life in the ocean disappeared within just a few thousands of years.

Gigantic volcanic activities in today’s Siberia and the release of large amounts of methane from the sea floor have been long debated as potential triggers of the Permian-Triassic extinction. But the exact cause and the sequence of events that led to the mass extinction remained highly controversial. Now, scientists from Germany, Italy and Canada, in the framework of the EU-funded project BASE-LiNE Earth led by Prof. Dr. Anton Eisenhauer from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in cooperation with the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, have for the first time been able to conclusively reconstruct the entire cascade of events at that time using cutting-edge analytical techniques and innovative geochemical modelling. The study has been published today (October 19, 2020) in the international journal Nature Geoscience.

For their study, the BASE-LiNE Earth team used a previously often neglected environmental archive: the shells of fossil brachiopods. “These are clam-like organisms that have existed on Earth for more than 500 million years. We were able to use well-preserved brachiopod fossils from the Southern Alps for our analyses. These shells were deposited at the bottom of the shallow shelf seas of the Tethys Ocean 252 million years ago and recorded the environmental conditions shortly before and at the beginning of extinction,” explains Dr. Hana Jurikova. She is first author of the study, which she conducted as part of the BASE-LiNE Earth project and her doctoral thesis at GEOMAR.

By measuring different isotopes of the element boron in the fossil shells, the team was able to trace the development of the pH values in the ocean 252 million years ago. Since seawater pH is tightly coupled to the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the reconstruction of the latter was also possible. For the analyses, the team used high-precision isotope analyses at GEOMAR as well as high-resolution microanalyses on the state-of-the-art large-geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS) at GFZ.

“With this technique, we can not only reconstruct the evolution of the atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but also clearly trace it back to volcanic activity. The dissolution of methane hydrates, which had been suggested as a potential further cause, is highly unlikely based on our data,” explains Dr. Marcus Gutjahr from GEOMAR, co-author of the study.

As a next step, the team fed their data from the boron and additional carbon isotope-based investigations into a computer-based geochemical model that simulated the Earth’s processes at that time. Results showed that warming and ocean acidification associated with the immense volcanic CO2 injection to the atmosphere was already fatal and led to the extinction of marine calcifying organisms right at the onset of the extinction. However, the CO2 release also brought further consequences; with increased global temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect, chemical weathering on land also increased.

Over thousands of years, increasing amounts of nutrients reached the oceans via rivers and coasts, which then became over-fertilized. The result was a large-scale oxygen depletion and the alteration of entire elemental cycles. “This domino-like collapse of the inter-connected life-sustaining cycles and processes ultimately led to the observed catastrophic extent of mass extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary,” summarizes Dr. Jurikova.

The study was conducted within the framework of the EU-funded ITN project BASE-LiNE Earth, in which the use of brachiopods as an environmental archive was systematically studied for the first time, and relevant analytical methods were improved and newly developed. “Without these new techniques it would be difficult to reconstruct environmental processes more than 250 million years ago in the same level of detail as we have done now,” emphasizes Prof. Dr. Anton Eisenhauer from GEOMAR, the former BASE-LiNE Earth project coordinator and co-author of the new study, “in addition, the new methods can be applied for other scientific applications.”

Reference: “Permian–Triassic mass extinction pulses driven by major marine carbon cycle perturbations” by Hana Jurikova, Marcus Gutjahr, Klaus Wallmann, Sascha Flögel, Volker Liebetrau, Renato Posenato, Lucia Angiolini, Claudio Garbelli, Uwe Brand, Michael Wiedenbeck and Anton Eisenhauer, 19 October 2020, Nature Geoscience.
DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-00646-4

41 Comments on "Driver Identified of the Largest Mass Extinction in the History of the Earth"

  1. I believe the evidence, provided by the scientists is very clear , and that we are at the beginning of another mass extinction event,the melting of the polar ice caps, and the fall back of the glaciers ,sea level rises is very frightening.

  2. Scary stuff! We’re all gonna die!

    Note that there is no quantification of CO2 levels. What this article does not disclose is the fact that CO2 levels were 2 to 4 times higher 250 million years ago, and have been falling steadily for 175 million years; they are now at the lowest levels in Earth’s history.

    See figure 4 in the article linked below:

  3. I don’t know why anyone thinks a rise in temperatures is a danger
    It was much warmer in recorded history
    And if U feel a rise of 1,5 degrees C is harsh
    Then just drive south 1/4 of the warm-cold width of your plant hardiness zone
    hardiness zones are in gradients of 10 degrees F
    If U do this U’ll arrive at a location 1.5 degrees c warmer climate wise
    But where all is calm and healthy
    And U’ll feel a bit sheepish that U thought
    such a mundane thing as a 1.5 degree C warmer clime was a danger
    This applies to anywhere in the northern hemisphere U want to start from
    U’ll be livid that the barely noticeable temperature difference
    is the excuse trudy uses for carbon taxes ,clean fuel taxes ,
    and net-zero games per “paris accord”

  4. Found fallen angels and morning star aztec dragon 1519’s 501AD this means the earth is 501 years old read what frauds at Vatican dont want you too!

  5. Congratulations for the authors to be among the select group that uses the correct verb, “became,” in conjunction with the state of being, “extinct.”

    Unfortunately, calling the Permian an epoch is wrong. At least in the US, it is correctly identified as a period. An epoch is a smaller subdivision of a period.

  6. Not only does the article or abstract not indicate what the quantitative results were for CO2, but the purported pH is not mentioned either. There is a good chance that the ocean actually became acidic. Unfortunately, the inappropriate common use of the phrase “ocean acidification” clouds the issue because it is used for alkaline solutions that may see a decline in pH of 0.1 unit. Acidification should be reserved for the situation when the water actually has a pH less than 7. When political motivations interfere with unambiguous communication of science, it is a perversion of science.

  7. Oxygen depletion due to over fertilization? No, that should be CO2 depletion due to plant life thriving in the presence of fertilization. Also, since CO2 decides ocean ph levels (source:, it is more likely that plants depleted the CO2, then died of suffocation, taking the food chain with them. This, then, caused there to be no more CO2 for the ocean to absorb, which keeps its ph alkaline, thus killing ocean life.

  8. So a mega volcanic eruption equates even warmer and Not Colder? Hm. this article claims “climate “change” (which again, if the climate was “static” I would assume that’s worse than “changing”) along with volcanic activity.

  9. [email protected]
    God-or whatever you want to call it-could anyone imagine what it would be like for a person to witness and acknowledge the way things are? Like, what if that fool is walking around innit? Looking at stuff! I try to show some empathy and compassion whenever I think about the poor soul that might be enduring something like that. Sad thought.

  10. With everything being politicized, who believes government scientists. They’ll lie through their teeth to get funding. You need a CO2 scare, we’ll gin a study up. GTH science journals, you are not honest and you have an agenda driven by the mantra that the end justifies the means.

  11. Christian Higgins | October 20, 2020 at 2:46 pm | Reply

    Also, there’s a lot of other sentient beings here, and they periodically eat us. Earth is a store for the now desired commodity that is us. Smackers!

  12. @moore…it could be thousands of years for this change to take place, but it would simply be a regular and natural change in the environment that has cycled through for millions if not billions of years on our beautiful planet. @Richie..yes..we are all going to die…dam that life cycle…what a bummer! Isn’t it relative, though, how some of us see the changes in temperature and CO2 levels as ominous and tragic…even though they are better, for human life, than they have ever been on our little globe in paradise. gets considerably warmer as you travel through the zones from cold to warmer climates…and our Earth has had ice caps in different places as time has gone by… Evolving and causing adaptations as it goes. Glorious!! @John… I agree with your premise. It is all interconnected and one thing can not change in isolation of another. One change would most definitely trigger the other. It is still an interesting article. I wonder how many hours of research and dollars invested it took to conclude what they did. I wonder if they could have been more thorough or if what they wanted to “prove” was accomplished, so why bother to continue… Hmmm. I wonder.

  13. We are going really really good | October 20, 2020 at 2:55 pm | Reply

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  14. WHAT……..

  15. We are not destroying Mother earth from driving gas driven vehicles etc or cows farting sorry but I think Mother Earth is a little bit tougher than what us humans are capable of doing 🙄.
    If we humans are too much of a nuisance for the planet Mother Earth 🌏 will think of something.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson | October 20, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Reply


    Yes, it is scary stuff – as is the current man made global warming and the ongoing 6th mass extinction which both now are observed facts – and no, we are not going to “all” die but the current heat wave and pandemic death count is staggering. (Both are known to increase in frequency due to global warning.) It is not anything to lightly wave away.

    “Note that there is no quantification of CO2 levels.”

    It’s right there in the paper? Did you read it. See e.g. the open source Supplement fig S4.8 c) with modelled atmospheric partial pressure of CO_2.

    But if you want an easier digest, c.f. “How a Greenhouse Catastrophe Killed Almost All Life” @ Heritage Daily:

    ” Dr. Jurikova says: “We are dealing with a cascading catastrophe in which the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere set off a chain of events that successively extinguished almost all life in the seas.”.

    Hana Jurikova adds: “Ancient volcanic eruptions of this kind are not directly comparable to anthropogenic carbon emissions, and in fact all modern fossil fuel reserves are far too insufficient to release as much CO2 over hundreds of years, let alone thousands of years as was released 252 million years ago.

    But it is astonishing that humanity’s CO2 emission rate is currently fourteen times higher than the annual emission rate at the time that marked the greatest biological catastrophe in Earth’s history”.”

    So for once man made global warming isn’t faster than naturally occurring global warming episodes by a factor 100-1,000, it is “just” a factor 10 in this case. What gave you an idea that the before-warning equilibrium CO2 would be problematic (or beneficial)? It is (mostly) the *change* and unprecedented *change rate* that is causing problems!

    @Stan Hicks: “I don’t know why anyone thinks a rise in temperatures is a danger It was much warmer in recorded history”.

    See above. If you don’t recognize what is problematic, how do you expect to know why other know it is problematic?

    @KPE: Superstition.

    @Clyde Spencer: “Not only does the article or abstract not indicate what the quantitative results were for CO2, but the purported pH is not mentioned either.”

    Read further, see above. The reason the abstract is not data riddled is that it is a model paper. But it looks like a good model in an, as of yet, open area (though most seem to conclude it is the Siberian Traps that did the deed).

    But good catches on the press release language. They use to be a lot worse though. And notably hard sciences is politically neutral (with anecdotal exceptions, humans being humans), and there is nothing here suggesting otherwise. On the other hand we do see a lot of the US political debate on hard facts [!] like man made global warming being propagated in comments.

  17. I think the bigger question, if not propaganda, is how did it reverse and in what time period? Then we can use that solution now to make change.

  18. I thought that was a face-hugger when I saw the cropped image for the article in my feed.

  19. It is encouraging to see the majority here are wise to the global warming alarmists. It gives one hope for the future. 1.5 rise in temp gives a greener, wetter, lusher planet on average.

  20. I don’t know much about science, but as one said “yes these all propaganda lying through out their teeth to get funding” correctly said.
    Well, regarding millions and millions numbers. 2600 years ago Lord Buddha has stated and it’s in the “thripitaka” any one can read the numbers are from 1 to 1 and 140 zeros, we even cannot count that number. When the earth and living forms stated, how it started, how it’s going to end and how it’s going to begin. Read the “aggangna soothra”
    Happing ending any way we all going to die it’s inevitable. We all are born with gift of death.

  21. ok, so we’re on the brink of another extinction. Why does that matter?

    And, why do evolutionists think extinction, even of the human race, is bad?

    Surely if we’re thinking in cosmological timescales it must be clear that Man is an awfully puny part of history – how arrogant to presume to think we could have much impact on the direction of earth’s history.

    If you’re right, it’s just all going to collapse one day. If I’m right, God will eventually complete His plans for earth, and it’ll all collapse one day. Either way, none of us alive today will be around, and our descendants will have adapted,because that’s what we do.

  22. While the world warms up and the temperate zone moves further and further north, we as Americans should yell out en masse, “Manifest Destiny”, and loaded with kegs of beer and jerseys, overrun the Canadian border and while they are partying with the beer and sorting the jerseys, we’ll exploit all their natural resources. We should be good for a couple hundred years.

  23. Fascinating! I was under the distinct impression that an epoch
    was far longer than a period of time. Anyway, this is fancy stuff,
    as I am a lowly lay-man; but I can still read quite a bit of it
    and have nightmares about empty oceans and very little life on land.
    The volcanic activity on land and in the oceans were bound to cause
    catastrophic atmospheric/oceanic changes for quite a while. All of the above dissertations are way-to-go in my lowly book; and well done.

  24. AnotherOldWhiteGuy | October 20, 2020 at 10:17 pm | Reply

    It matters because we’re on the brink of a mass extinction that we’re causing and it is within our ability to avoid the worst of it if we’re only willing to change our ways. I think it’s bad because I don’t want my children and their children to grow up in a world where a third of the population is dead, a third are refugees, and a third and fighting wars to keep the refugees from taking what little resources they can hold on to. I want them to grow up in a world where their parents woke the hell up and gave up their greed and callous indifference in time for there to be a world worth living in. We’re all responsible for both the problem and the solution and — divine plan or no — this world is about to get a whole lot uglier if we don’t take that responsibility seriously. In cosmological timescales, we’re all hawking radiation and then nothing in the end. But right now, we have the chance to change things, not for vanity of changing the Earth’s history, but to alleviate the suffering of millions for centuries to come. What Would Jesus do?

  25. What if virus’ were trapped in the frozen polar ice-caps.. and were released that way? A kind of marker for the beginning of an extinction event. What if the virus’ trapped in the polar ice-caps are part of Nature’s engineering.. triggered by a warming due to some extreme human behavior.. you know like all the unnecessary mass production. At this point in time, human beings are no more than consumers, destroying the Earth for money. It’s a sickness, a mental illness if you will that the Earth will gladly remove.

  26. I’m contemt knowing that the earth will survive, and be much better off without the prescence of man – we are a flawed species and deserve to all die.

  27. Laurel in mankind is both the potential for great good and great evil. Why would you not prefer to survive as a species, and hopefully in the process become worthy of becoming a kardashev tp 2, 3, etc..? We do have the potential….

  28. @laurel
    We as a species are capable of great good and evil. Yes we are flawed, but we do have the potential to become more good, less evil, and hopefully eventually intelligent enough to inherit the universe. Think kardashev type v…

  29. I photo monitored the coral reefs near Key West ( for 25 years and shared the images to scientists, researchers, students and politicians. What amazed me was in a short period of 25 years at least 50% of the coral disappeared. Today, 20 years late, over 90% of the coral has died. Call it what you may, you cannot hide from these facts. What amazes me even more are people who refuse to adapt to current situations even with simple common sense things like wearing a facemark to prevent the spread of a pandemic. To error on the side of caution is not a bad thing.

  30. Cont. But seem to be losing the will….i wonder why?

  31. I see a lot of ill informed comments here.
    Sure, CO2 was much higher at certain times in Earth’s history. But the Sun was also several percent weaker than it is now. About 300 million years ago, CO2 was thousands of ppm in the atmosphere. But the Sun was so weak that it would take 3,000ppm just to keep the planet from freezing over.

    NO, using the term ocean acidification is NOT wrong. Scientists use the term to indicate a lowering of pH, even if pH levels are above 7. Creatures like coral and shellfish need a certain level of alkalinity to form shells. pH level does not have to be below 7 to prevent this.

    The planet is now warming at least 10 times faster than when it came out of the last glacial period. It took 10,000 years to warm by 5 C. That averages 2,000 years for each 1 C warming.
    Global average temperature has increased by 1 C in the last 140 years. Do the simple arithmetic. I got 14 times faster now.

    Tom said. “1.5 rise in temp gives a greener, wetter, lusher planet on average.”
    Sorry, but that is idiotic nonsense.
    It is the speed of this warming that is so dangerous. When the planet warms this much naturally, it takes many thousands of years. Plants and animals have time to adapt and even evolve in time to survive it. Anthropogenic global warming it threatening to warm the planet by as much as 4 C in over just a few hundred years. When the last glacial period ended, it took from 20,0000 years ago to 9,000 years ago to warm by 5 C.

    So why is the warming so fast now? That is because CO2 has likely NEVER increased this fast naturally. We are increasing atmospheric CO2 100 times faster than the fastest that nature has done in At Least the last 450,000 years and almost certainly in the last 800,000 years or more. We know this from ice core data that goes back that far.

    Humans increased CO2 by over 80ppm in 60 years
    Humans increased CO2 by 130ppm in 140 years

    Nature caused CO2 increases over the last 450,000 years, from ice core data

    80ppm increase — took 50,000 years
    110ppm increase — 25,000 years
    120ppm increase — 20,000 years
    60ppm increase — 20,000 years
    90ppm increase — 15,000 years
    100ppm increase — 24,800 years

    The numbers for 800,000 years would be similar, based on a graph, from ice core data going back that far.

  32. We are in the same position in the galaxy as we were 250 million years ago. Meaning we have done a full revolution of the galaxy. The next few years should be interesting.

  33. Billions of years.. Who was there as an eye witness? It’s impossible for any terraium to exist for billions of years.. In 1844 the imagined evolution of life outside of a creator was vital to justify former religious men to explain their own unbelief.. Darwin and associates.. The Global flood event has left massive death evid3nce all through the sedinentary layers.. Geologist Kurt wise and Steve Austin can help inform y’all on the evidence.. MT st Helens proved that grand canyon did not take billions of years to form..

  34. Torbjörn Larsson | October 21, 2020 at 3:15 pm | Reply

    @TurKey: ? Relevance? We know how to stop the ongoing change before it gets too much worse in a few centuries. But in general mass extinctions takes 1-10 million years (the latter for this one) to recover from – how fast the climate forcing disappeared, the climate stabilized, et cetera is likely also geological time (i.e. a million years or whereabouts).

    But mammal speciation also happens over geological time and our species will not be around to see any of that. Whatever we do, or not do, today we will be stuck with for centuries if not much longer.

    @Tom: You mean, they want to ignore both the observed fact and the science. None of that is “alarmism” excpet in the eyes of the ignorant. C.f. how little response the science of the article got – it is on an entirely other subject than man made global warming even if the observed consequences isn’t – or the references I gave.

    @Puja, OldWhiteGuy, Jz, in terminology if not in other reasoning AnotherOldWhiteGuy: Irrelevant superstition.

    @Gerard Haughey: Alarmism, joke or misunderstanding evolution? Parasites and diseases coevolve with their hosts – if the virus would be older than hominins: forgeddaboudid. (Admittedly, the oldest ices may be that old.)

    @Laurel Deveso: Flaw not in evidence.

  35. Torbjörn Larsson | October 21, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Reply

    @Richard Mercer: Thanks! I enjoyed the happenstance sane and well informed comment.

    When the US crowd of politically motivated for/against climate change/pandemic masks (admittedly, US may need masks – well, *something, anything* at now 300,000 over baseline deaths – but social distancing is prime) and superstition motivated anti-science comments pop up on a science thread, it is boring me. They have other social media and magic ritual houses to pay obeisance in – if they try evangelical outreach they are failing since they look like generic trolls.

  36. Don’t believe in science. Believe some crackpot who can spout numbers to justify their point.
    To think the human race isn’t or hasn’t done damage to the planet, well I’ll tell you what, go suck on an exhaust pipe, see if you still feel the same way.
    Tell the people who have been victim to a natural disaster. The likes of which has never happened.
    Be nice if people cared about the planet as much they think a fictional entity made it

  37. Rate of warming / cooling: If you were trying to warm a cubic meter of ice, you’d come to the S-L state transition, after which the rate of temperature rise would accelerate significantly for a given energy input. As you melt glacier ice and there is less of it, the earth would warm more quickly. There are many other factors, some that correlate to this and some that don’t, some that exacerbate the effect and some that don’t.

  38. Regular Dude that likes Beer | October 22, 2020 at 12:16 am | Reply

    WWJD He would pray about it continuously, ask his heavenly Father to forgive the liars and hypocrites, pray GODS will over the earth, make mans law effective by changing it “for goodness’s sake” to an eye for an eye and he would
    vote TRUMP 2020

  39. So, the slow extraction and consumption of crude oil and natural gas over the past and next hundred years may be preventing their natural release?

    Nobody tell Algore.

  40. What if this impending doom has nothing to do with global warming. What if the world is shifting in erratic behavior because there is a weight distribution problem. The amount of cement and infrastructure that has been constructed in the biggest populated countries like India and China are throwing the earth off its axis. Like a spinning basketball on a finger. If you add weight to a spinning object it throws everything off. The solution would be counter balance weight added to the opposite end. Like tires of a car. The amount of pollution in both those places is merely a coincidence. Still a problem to be addressed however, there is a bigger problem.

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