What’s the Latest Development?
A new study published in this week’s Science suggests that a series of major volcanic eruptions over a 600,000-year period was what led to the extinction of half of Earth’s early animal and plant species prior to the rise of the dinosaurs. The eruptions occurred when all the planet’s land was contained in one big supercontinent, and the resulting rift eventually became the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers studied lava flows, sediment layers, and fossil evidence from both sides of the ocean and were able to pinpoint, with a new level of accuracy, dates when species were eradicated.
What’s the Big Idea?
Scientists have long suspected that climate change brought on by large amounts of greenhouse gases released by the volcanoes ended the Triassic era about 210 million years ago. They also believed that similar activity caused at least four other major species extinctions. According to lead author Terrence Blackburn, “previous dates for these eruptions had error margins of 1 million to 3 million years, but this study decreases those numbers by an order of magnitude.” The end of the Triassic era marked the start of the Jurassic, when dinosaurs began to multiply in areas formerly occupied by other species.
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