From: Devin Powell, Science News
Published June 15, 2012 07:20 AM

Did CO2 Cause Mass Extinction 252 Million Years Ago?

New clues in a mass murder that took place 252 million years ago points to a suspect: Ocean acidification may have driven the largest extinction of animals the world has ever seen.

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Carbon dioxide belched out by volcanic eruptions during the Permian period could have caused the oceans’ chemistry to change. That’s worrisome because CO2 levels are rising today — thanks to the burning of fossil fuels — and pushing down seawater pH, researchers report online June 8 in Geology.

"The worst biodiversity catastrophe we've had in the history of animal life appears to have been associated with ocean acidification and other kinds of environmental changes we anticipate in the coming centuries," says Jonathan Payne, a paleobiologist at Stanford University. "It's a useful comparison point to have in mind as we think about the future of the modern oceans."

The Great Dying at the end of the Permian period 252 million years ago wiped out most animal species, with marine critters hit hardest. Popular explanations include an upwelling of deep, oxygen-poor waters that suffocated life near the surface, or perhaps huge eruptions in Siberia that warmed and acidified oceans.

Volcanos image via Shutterstock.

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