22 July 2011

I Carry Within Me the Threat of a Global Mass Extinction Event…

Most people are unaware of this, but the extinction of the dinosaurs (except for the birds) was not the most massive extinction event.

In fact, the mass extinction that led to the dinosaurs was the largest of all time.

So, how does this involve me?

Well to those who know me, in particularly my relatives, will understand from the headline:
Did Giant Earth Fart Give Rise to the Dinosaurs?

A huge release of methane gas may have triggered the prehistoric mass extinctions that allowed dinosaurs to become the dominant life form on earth, according to a new study.

About 201 million years ago, half of known species vanished in an event that signaled the end of the Triassic period and created the lack of natural competition necessary for the ascendance of dinosaurs. The oldest known dinosaur fossiles date back to about 230 million years ago, but they do not take over until about 30 million years later.

Scientists had attributed the mass extinctions to 600,000 years of rampant volcanic activity, but a team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen's Nordic Center for Earth Evolution develop that theory further by arguing that a surge in volcanic activity released methane trapped in the sea floor, sending temperatures soaring.

"A small release of carbon monoxide from volcanism initiated global warming of the atmosphere, increasing temperatures in the oceans," lead researcher Micha Ruhl told FoxNews.com. "Methane is stored in the sea floor -- it's a molecule which is caught in some kind of ice structure. As soon as the temperatures got above a certain threshold, the ice melted and that methane was released."

Ruhl and his team studied the chemical remains of plants that had lived on the ocean floor and found a dramatic spike in carbon levels that lasted for a much shorter time than the period of volcanic eruptions, suggesting a shorter, more intense release of methane gases. Methane is more powerful than the carbon monoxide released by the volcanoes, and could have created a period of intense warming.
Be afraid, be very very afraid.

On a slightly less silly note, the idea that there is a tipping point where solid methane hydrate on the ocean floor (and in the tundra) would start outgassing at a ferocious rate, creating a horrific cascade.


Elder Brother said...

Your relatives thank you.

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