Scientists think they've figured out the falling dominoes that led to Earth's largest mass extinction and worry that human-caused climate change puts the planet on a vaguely similar path.
Some 250 million years ago, about 90 percent of sea life and 70 percent of land life went extinct in what is now called the Great Dying. Scientists have long speculated that massive volcanic outbursts triggered the cataclysmic event, but how that worked was still a bit fuzzy. It wasn't the lava itself.
Study - Thursday - Journal - Science - Computer
A new study in Thursday's journal Science used complex computer simulations to plot out what happened after the volcanoes blew: It led to ocean temperatures rising by about 20 degrees (11 degrees Celsius), which then starved the seawater of oxygen. That hot oxygen-starved water caused the mass marine die-off, especially farther from the equator.
After the volcanoes blew, the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide soared to a level more than 12 times what it is today , said study lead author Justin Penn, an Earth sciences researcher at the University of Washington.
Water - Oxygen - Cola - Penn - Scientists
Water loses oxygen when it warms, much like a warm can of cola goes flat, Penn said. Scientists looked at dozens of modern species to see what happens to them in warmer, oxygen-starved water and that helped them understand the past extinction.
One of the keys in the research is that more species died off away from the equator. That's because tropical species were more acclimated to low oxygen levels, Penn...
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