The Great Warming Extinction was Even More Deadly Than Believed

October 19, 2012

Red Orbit:

Life about 250 million years ago was hard to come by. In fact, it was nearly non-existent. Scientists, studying why this period, known as the end-Permian event, lasted so long and have found a key ingredient: heat.

Paul Wignall, a paleontologist at England’s Leeds University, and study coauthor, said during the 200,000-year-long Permian extinction the Earth began cooking, with life struggling to thrive, especially at the equator.

The end-Permian event was also met with a large die-off of plants. And with no plants around to consume carbon dioxide (a gas that warms the planet) the earth became “like a runaway greenhouse—it [started] to get out of control,” said Wignall.

While some life survived the Permian extinction–such as snails and clams–the intense heat soon even killed these creatures, leaving the planet a virtual “dead zone” for 5 million years, he said. While dead zones are typically seen after extinction events, they usually only last on a scale of tens of thousands of years. So it was perplexing to find the dead zone from the Permian extinction event lasted on a scale of millions, rather than thousands, of years.

Lead author Yadong Sun, along with Wignall and research partners from China University of Geosciences and University of Erlangen-Nurnburg in Germany, found that the lengthy die-off was due to a temperature rise in the tropics to around 104°F at sea-surface and up to 140°F on land.

“Global warming has long been linked to the end-Permian mass extinction, but this study is the first to show extreme temperatures kept life from re-starting in Equatorial latitudes for millions of years,” said Sun, who holds a PhD in geology at Leeds.

This was also the first study to show water temperatures close to the ocean’s surface can reach temperatures of more than 100°F–a temperature at which point marine life cannot thrive and photosynthesis stops. Until now, climate models have only been able to show sea-surface temperatures reaching a maximum of 86°F.

Couple of things. As the story mentions, climate models have been unable to simulate the intensity of heat that the pale-evidence now indicates. So, when deniers say that climate models are imperfect, they are in some instances correct – but that fact should not give us comfort. This study, and contemporary observations such as changes in arctic ice, show that climate models in many instances have underestimated greenhouse impacts.

 Another major kill factor was that, as the ocean warmed and stopped producing oxygen, certain types of organisms began to be favored, organisms that produced deadly hydrogen sulfide and poisoned the atmosphere in a truly deadly one-two punch.

The video below features Richard Alley discussing this and other issues.


14 Responses to “The Great Warming Extinction was Even More Deadly Than Believed”

  1. Wes Says:

    How many people have to yell “Fire!” before someone calls the fire department? We can’t just clear the theater, we’re all out of starships.

    I heard Obama proudly mentioning oil and gas last night on Jon Stewart’s show and could only wonder what he will tell his daughters when they eventually ask him what he did to stop this.

  2. omnologos Says:

    Usual exaggerations. Dead zone it wasn’t. Why do you give credence to this stuff, I will never understand.

    • “Why do you give credence?”

      Let see we have peer-review journals with multi lines evident.

      like (


      CATO, Fox News, Daily Mail, WUWT, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin

      you know the brain trust of the ant science / denial movement which you belong too.

      Remember the motto for your movement. by Rick Santorum

      “We will never have the elite, smart people on our side.”

      • omnologos Says:

        What multiple lines of evidence? We are talking the aftermath of the P-T extinction event. There are hundreds of studies and tons of evidence alright, but to try to answer it all with “it was climate change!” is simplistic to the point of antiscientific. For example a great number of animals and plants were born and lived and died during those 5 million years of fossil scarcity, and it wasn’t only fungi and snails, but pretty large creatures who somehow survived the 40C temperatures (hint: the Danakil Depression isn’t empty of life).

        It all sounds a bit like when every extinction event got suddenly explained by falling asteroids.

        As for Limbaugh’s or Palin’s opinion on the P-T extinction event, presumably we all agree nobody cares.

        • indulisb Says:

          I think the point is not that climate change CAUSED all extinctions, but that the higher temperatures resulted in some really nasty, catastrophic effects.

          So if the human species keeps “the pedal to the metal”and releases the CO2 which geological processes nicely stored away as part of regulating the climate, and we raise the planet to higher temperatures similar to those which were seen in past times, we might get the same kind of killing effects.

          In any case, the planet and some form of life will survive, “climate has changed before”… but human society as we know it may be on the receiving end of a new extinction event. Which will probably sort itself out in a few tens of thousands, or millions of years. Like it did after the Permian.

  3. prokaryotes Says:

    The clathrate gun is probably some kind of reset switch for a planetary system – when things get out of hand, means out of balance with the planetary boundaries.

    Yesy the climate changed before, but we control the magnitude and at the moment we play with the master switch full open – a possible situation unprecedented in earth history. Because the rate we releasing the greenhouse gases is unprecedented in the earth history.

  4. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Hypoxic is not anoxic, but one of the scariest recent developments is the expansion of hypoxic zones that are not related to agricultural run off. So far we only see this as a fisheries issue that affects fish stock management not as a harbinger.

    It is only a few years since Peter D Ward’s “Under A Green Sky” was regarded as beyond the fringe, an hypothesis so outlandish that it was not even worthy of rejection. Yet now it is in the mainstream of climate science theory.

    Long ahead of schedule the hypoxia spreads. How long before we see truly anoxic zones. This is all happening so much faster than even I expected.

  5. rayduray Says:

    Here’s a satellite image of yesterday’s dust storm across the Great Plains:

  6. rayduray Says:

    The Future is arriving in Califorinia. Tesla opens new “filling” stations for its electric car fleet, enabling SF-LA journeys and more:


    “Tesla unveils six Supercharger stations in California”

    “Today, Tesla opened six Supercharger stations in launch of the Supercharger network. The stations seem to be located in such a way that EV owners can travel between LA, San Francisco, Vegas, and Lake Tahoe. Says the tweet from @TeslaMotors: “Charge for free in Model S on your next road trip btwn SF and LA, Tahoe & Vegas.””

  7. […] 2012/10/19: PSinclair: The Great Warming Extinction was Even More Deadly Than Believed […]

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