posted on Jul, 9 2003 @ 11:57 PM
One of the great geologic mysteries... and one of my personal favorites to discuss...
Only six degrees separate our world from the cataclysmic end of an ancient era
Tuesday July 1, 2003
It is old news, I admit. Two hundred and fifty-one million years old, to be precise. But the story of what happened then, which has now been told for
the first time, demands our urgent attention. Its implications are more profound than anything taking place in Iraq, or Washington, or even (and I am
sorry to burst your bubble) Wimbledon. Unless we understand what happened, and act upon that intelligence, prehistory may very soon repeat itself, not
as tragedy, but as catastrophe.
The events that brought the Permian period (between 286m and 251m years ago) to an end could not be clearly determined until the mapping of the key
geological sequences had been completed. Until recently, palaeontologists had assumed that the changes that took place then were gradual and
piecemeal. But three years ago a precise date for the end of the period was established, which enabled geologists to draw direct comparisons between
the rocks laid down at that time in different parts of the world.
Having done so, they made a shattering discovery. In China, South Africa, Australia, Greenland, Russia and Svalbard, the rocks record an almost
identical sequence of events, taking place not gradually, but relatively instantaneously. They show that a cataclysm caused by natural processes
almost brought life on earth to an end. They also suggest that a set of human activities that threatens to replicate those processes could exert the
same effect, within the lifetimes of some of those who are on earth today.