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Mass extinctions during catastrophic climate change were caused by huge mercury levels, Canadian scientists say. The Earth’s greatest global loss of life, around 250 million years ago, wiped out almost all marine creatures and most land-dwellers. Now, researchers at the University of Calgary have published a paper in the Geology journal, which blames massive mercury levels from volcanic eruptions, 30 times greater than those seen today. Co-author, Dr. Steve Grasby, an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and a research scientist at Natural Resources Canada, says, “No one had ever looked to see if mercury was a potential culprit. 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. 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.” This is the first study to blame mercury for the Permian extinctions, says co-author and University of Calgary Geology Professor, Dr. Benoit Beauchamp. “Geologists, including myself should be taking notes and taking another look at the other five big extinction events.” The loss of marine life occurred after the oceans were contaminated by the mercury, explains Dr. Hamed Sanei, adjunct professor at the University of Calgary and research scientist at Natural Resources Canada. “Typically, algae acts like a scavenger and buries the mercury in the sediment, mitigating the effect in the oceans. But in this case, the load was just so huge that it could not stop the damage.” In the Permian period, the land was a single continent. It is commonly thought that the eruptions from the volcanoes released carbon dioxide and other deadly poisons after penetrating coal seams. The Calgary University team provided evidence for this in a paper previously published in the Nature Geoscience journa
Four main characteristics of the Permian-Triassic Extinction were hyper-volcanism, abrupt climate change, changes in ocean salinity which altered the physics of ocean current circulation, and a geomagnetic reversal. Is history about to repeat itself?
It is commonly thought that the eruptions from the volcanoes released carbon dioxide and other deadly poisons after penetrating coal seams