The first direct evidence that the extensive burning of coal in Siberia is the cause of the Permo-Triassic Extinction, the most severe on Earth, has been presented by a team of researchers led by the professor of the School of Earth Exploration and the Arizona State University (ASU) Space, Lindy Elkins-Tanton ,
The results of their study have recently been published in the journal Geology .
Permian-Triassic mass extinction
The Permian-Triassic mass extinction , also informally called the Great Dying , was a mass extinction that occurred approximately 250 million years ago. It was the largest extinction ever to occur on Earth. In it, approximately 95% of marine species3 and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species disappeared.
To find out the reason for this extinction, the international team led by Elkins-Tanton focused on analyzing volcanic rocks (rocks created by explosive volcanic eruptions) in a region of volcanic rock in Russia. The eruptions continued for approximately two million years and spanned the Permian-Triassic boundary. Today, the area is covered by approximately five million square kilometers of basalt rock .
Among the possible causes of this extinction event, and one of the most accepted hypotheses, is that the massive burning of coal caused catastrophic global warming , which in turn was devastating for life.
To search for evidence to support this hypothesis, Elkins-Tanton and her team began examining the region of the Siberian traps, or Siberian stairs, which form a large region of volcanic rock, known as the Great Igneous Province, in Siberia, where it was known that the Magmas and lavas from volcanic events burned a combination of vegetation and coal.
Eventually they collected more than 400 kg of samples , which were shared with a team of 30 scientists from eight different countries.
As the samples were analyzed, the team began to see strange fragments in the volcanic materials that looked like burned wood and, in some cases, burned coal . According to the author:
Our study shows that magmas from the Siberian traps were introduced and incorporated carbon and organic material. That gives us direct evidence that the magmas also burned large amounts of carbon and organic matter during the eruption.