"Factory Smoke Blankets Clark Avenue" by Frank J. Aleksandrowicz / Public Domain

Burning Fossil Fuels Helped Drive Earth’s Most Massive Extinction

Nov 18, 2020

By Lucas Joel

Paleontologists call it the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, but it has another name: “the Great Dying.” It happened about 252 million years ago, and, over the course of just tens of thousands of years, 96 percent of all life in the oceans and, perhaps, roughly 70 percent of all land life vanished forever.

The smoking gun was ancient volcanism in what is today Siberia, where volcanoes disgorged enough magma and lava over about a million years to cover an amount of land equivalent to a third or even half of the surface area of the United States.

But volcanism on its own didn’t cause the extinction. The Great Dying was fueled, two separate teams of scientists report in two recent papers, by extensive oil and coal deposits that the Siberian magma blazed through, leading to combustion that released greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

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