Study blames excess mercury influx for the late Permian extinction

University of Calgary Logo The late Permian extinction, which happened over 250 million years ago, is considered to be one of the most massive annihilation events on earth till date. The occurrence is blamed on certain factors like severe climate changes, extreme volcanic activities, and others. However, a recent study has put forth that excessive mercury influx in the eco-system might be one of the basic causes of the extermination.

Apparently, this is the first study which links mercury to the extinction event which wiped out almost all marine life, and a major section of land dwelling ones. It says that the natural buffering system in the ocean was congested with mercury during that period and this accounts for 95 percent of the living species lost at sea. Hamed Sanei, lead author of this study, points out that algae works towards burying mercury in sediments and reduces the harm done to the ocean. But in this case, the amount was too huge to be managed by algae.

“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,” said Dr. Steve Grasby, 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.”

Another theory about this annihilation suggests that it was a result of carbon dioxide and some more toxins. This is said to have happened when volcanic eruptions burned though coal beds. The team involved in this study also points out that these emissions have to be much more than the man-made production of the chemicals we witness today, considering the damage that has been done.

The findings of this study have been published in the journal, Geology.

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