Erasing Almost All Life on Earth Took Just 60K Years
Study: That's give or take 48K years, 'practically instantaneous'
By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2014 7:29 AM CST
Updated Feb 15, 2014 7:00 PM CST
A life reconstruction of the head of Tiarajudens eccentricus from the Permian period. The leaf-crunching animal lived 260 million years ago in what is now Brazil.   (AP Photo/Science)

(Newser) – Roughly 252 million years ago, an extreme animal die-off occurred: 70% of land animals and 96% of marine life were obliterated, in what's known as the Permian mass extinction. What scientists still don't exactly know is why (an asteroid? volcanic eruptions?), but they now know how long it took. And the answer is ... really, really fast. MIT researchers say the extinction period's duration clocked in at 60,000 years, plus or minus 48,000 years. As puts it, that's "practically instantaneous, from a geological perspective." To get your geological periods and catastrophic disasters straight: The die-off signified the end of the Permian period and launched the start of the Triassic; the mass die-off of the dinosaurs happened much later, 66 million years ago at the Cretaceous period's close, when LiveScience reports 85% of life was wiped out.

The researchers came to their conclusion by using cutting-edge dating techniques on tiny minerals known as zircons found in rocks in Meishan, China, that date to the period. But the rocks also held carbon dioxide data; from there, the researchers determined that a surge of the gas occurred 10,000 to 20,000 years before the die-off: Ocean acidification may have have occurred, and sea temps could have jumped as much as 50 degrees. But what was the source of the increased carbon dioxide that marked the beginning of the end? MIT researchers are now dating rocks from the Siberian Traps to determine if volcanic eruptions there could have been the culprit.

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Apr 2, 2014 11:43 AM CDT
Like the Beatle's album stated "ALL THINGS MUST PASS"
Bob Robin
Feb 17, 2014 1:59 PM CST
Please tell me why anthropogenic climate change adherents believe the best way to deal with this "problem" is to tax the hell out of productive people and businesses in first world nations, redistribute that money to poor people around the globe in third world countries while denying those same poor people the chance to grow themselves and their economies by using proven and highly effective strategies to exploit the strengths of their homeland such as coal, oil, natural gas, et al. Effectively, the political and economic agenda of the climate change cheerleaders does nothing to address climate change, but ensures a lower standard of living for everyone, and limits even further the chances of those 3rd world economies to pull themselves out of continuing cycles of generational poverty. What say you?
Feb 16, 2014 6:12 AM CST
Dear denialists: yes, it is quite possible that what will be happening to the planet over the next hundred years will be similar to phenomena that occur naturally every 200 million years or so. The 2 million-to-1 ratio is significant.