Earth’s massive extinction 250 million years ago caused by mercury

Posted on January 6, 2012


Scientists have discovered a a new culprit likely involved in Earth’s greatest extinction event 250 million years ago (when rapid climate change wiped out nearly all marine species and a majority of those on land): an influx of mercury into the ecosystem.

“This was a time of the greatest volcanic activity in Earth’s history and we know today that the largest source of mercury comes from volcanic eruptions,” says Dr. Steve Grasby, a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

“We estimate that the mercury released then could have been up to 30 times greater than today’s volcanic activity, making the event truly catastrophic.”

Dr. Benoit Beauchamp, professor of geology at the University of Calgary, says this study is significant because it’s the first time mercury has been linked to the cause of the massive extinction that took place during the end of the Permian, about 250 million years ago.

During the period, the natural buffering system in the ocean became overloaded with mercury, contributing to the loss of 95 per cent of life in the sea.


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