In the Permian Period, Erupting Super-Volcanoes May Have Killed Half the Planet

By Allison Bond | May 29, 2009 1:31 pm

volcanoThe explosion of a volcano located in present-day China might have caused a mass extinction 260 million years ago, adding more evidence that volcanoes might have been to blame for some of the world’s most catastrophic die-offs. Because the eruptions occurred in a shallow sea the researchers were able to study both the volcanic rock and the overlying layer of sedimentary rock containing fossilized marine life [AP], giving researchers a better picture of how the explosion altered the balance of life.

The injection of hot lava in a sea would have produced a massive cloud formation that could spread around the world, cooling the planet and producing acid rain [AP], according to the study, which was published in Science and led by paleontologist Paul Wignall. Based on analysis of the volcanic and sedimentary rock at the eruption site, the scientists hypothesized that ash and lava spewed from a sea covering the volcano, showering plants and animals with atmospheric carbon. “When fast flowing, low viscosity magma meets shallow sea it’s like throwing water into a chip pan there’s spectacular explosion producing gigantic clouds of steam” [Telegraph], says Wignall.

During the Permian Period (299 to 251 million years ago) at the tail end of the Paleozoic era, most of Earth’s land was still united in Pangaea, and amphibians and archosaurs (proto-dinosaurs) roamed the land while cephalopods and foraminifers populated the waters [Scientific American]. While the mid-Permian extinction event of 260 million years ago wasn’t as drastic as the extinction event known as “the great dying” that marked the end of the Permian Period, researchers say it still may have killed half of all life on the planet.

The volcano is one of a family of violent volcanoes known as large igneous deposits, or LIPs–a group scientists have postulated may coincide with a handful of mass extinctions throughout history.  “Every crisis in the past 300 million years coincides with a LIP eruption,” Wignall says. “So there’s clearly some connection” [Discovery News].

Related Content:
80beats: Forget “The Asteroid”: Could Supervolcanoes Have Killed the Dinosaurs?
80beats: Undersea Volcanoes Decimated Marine Life in the Primordial Oceans

Image: flickr / Fabian Bromann

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • opossum

    That should be a warning for anyone daring enough to pee on Old Faithful.

  • amphiox

    “amphibians and archosaurs (proto-dinosaurs) roamed the land”

    What about the therapsids? Weren’t they the dominant Permian terretrial group?

  • http://crowlspace.com/ Adam

    Quite right, amphiox. The therapsids were the dominant land animals of the period. The archosaurs didn’t arrive in bulk until the Triassic.

    Interesting about the LIPs and extinctions. Odd too that impacts seem associated with both as well. Got to wonder if there’s something to the idea that impacts trigger an LIP formation event, or the alternative view that an LIP supervolcano can launch a “Verne Shot” that produces an impact crater?

  • http://www.louisvuitton78.com/ louisvuitton78

    I’ve read a few good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a magnificent informative site.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »