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Dec 3 / Dave Schumaker

Permian Extinction: More Evidence Points Towards Volcanoes

Volcanic eruptionNew research to be published in the journal of Geology sheds more light on what was responsible the Permian Extinction, the largest extinction in Earth’s history that happened 250 million years ago. Poisonous volcanic gases that possibly originated from the eruption of the Siberian Traps killed plant life, as well as destroyed the ozone layer.

However, analysis of a unique set of molecules found in rocks taken from the Dolomites in Italy has enabled scientists to build up a picture of what actually happened. The molecules are the remains of polysaccharides, large sugar-based structures common in plants and soil, and they tell the story of the extinction.

The molecules date from the same time as a major volcanic eruption that caused the greatest ever outpouring of basalt lava over vast swathes of land in present day Siberia.

The researchers believe that the volcanic gases from the eruption, which would have depleted earth’s protective ozone layer and acidified the land and sea, killed rooted vegetation. This meant that soil was no longer retained and it washed into the surrounding oceans.

The chemistry of the rocks reveals that although the sugar molecules were found in marine sediments, they derived from land, supporting the theory that massive soil erosion caused them to end up in the sea.

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