CO2 Emissions Following Volcanic Activity Could Have Caused the Triassic Mass Extinction

A team of researchers found that volcanic activity had a steering role in causing extreme climate change at the tail of the Triassic era, believed to have occurred about 201 million years ago. It was also the main culprit behind the mass extinction of approximately half of all the existing species.

The quantity of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by these volcanic blow-offs can allegedly be compared to the amount of CO2 produced in the 21st century. The extinction at the end of the Triassic period has long been theorized to have been provoked by extreme climate change and rising sea levels. Although there was extensive volcanic activity back them, known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province eruptions, the role it had in directly advancing the extinction event is argued.

Similar Amounts

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, an international team of scientists, including McGill professor Don Baker, found proof of bubbles of CO2 caught in volcanic rocks dating to the end of the Triassic period. The discovery, therefore, supports the hypothesis that volcanic activity contributed to the extreme climate change believed to have triggered the mass extinction.

The team implied that the end-Triassic environmental changes caused by volcanic carbon dioxide emissions may have been comparable to those predicted for the near future. By studying the small gas exsolution foam conserved in the rocks, the researchers suggested that the quantity of CO2 emissions discharged in a single eruption is probably similar to the total emitted by human activity during the 21st century, supposing a 2C increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels.

“Although we cannot precisely determine the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when these volcanoes erupted, the correlation between this natural injection of carbon dioxide and the end-Triassic extinction should be a warning to us. Even a slight possibility that the carbon dioxide we are now putting into the atmosphere could cause a major extinction event is enough to make me worried,” explained renowned Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Don Baker.

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