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Scientists Study Permian Mass Extinction Event As Lesson For 21st Century 235

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "About 252 million years ago, cracks in the Earth's crust in Siberia caused vast amounts of lava to spill out and blanket the region with about 6,000,000 cubic kilometers of molten material—enough to cover the continental U.S. at a one mile depth. It triggered a huge change in climate, causing a mass extinction event that killed roughly 90 percent of life on earth. Now Helen Thompson writes in the Smithsonian that a team at MIT has focused its efforts on this major extinction event, which marks the end of the Permian period and the beginning of the Triassic period. Their results suggest that the die-out happened a lot faster than previously thought — perhaps over a span of only 60,000 years. The shorter time scale means that organisms would have had less time to react and adapt to changes in climate, atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidity. Without the ability to adapt, they died. Other mass extinction events have also been narrowed down to short timeframes. The asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period only took about 32,000 years. A similar study of another mass extinction triggered by volcanic eruptions at the end of the Triassic period suggests it lasted less than 5,000 years. Even though all of these extinction events were caused by different things, the ecosystem collapse happened very quickly. 'Whatever the causes of the extinctions may be, and it looks like there are very different causes for some of them, the biosphere may collapse in very similar ways once it gets beyond a tipping point,' says Doug Erwin. Some scientists see the end of the Permian as a lesson for the 21st century (PDF) and say that understanding the conditions leading up to, within, and after a mass extinction event may help us to avoid human-induced ecosystem collapses in the future. As Erwin puts it, 'you don't want to start a mass extinction, because once a mass extinction begins, the prognosis is pretty grim.'"
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Scientists Study Permian Mass Extinction Event As Lesson For 21st Century

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  • Aren't we already? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tmann72 ( 2473512 ) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @05:24PM (#46290001)
    Aren't we already in a human caused mass extinction? How many life forms have been wiped off the planet in the last 2000 years? Faster than the natural rate I'm sure, and it's ongoing.
  • by deathcloset ( 626704 ) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @07:10PM (#46290867) Journal
    OK, very funny, though a bit tired of an observation. Humans are a disease, humans are a plague, yes yes, we've heard it before and we've seen the terrible things we have been doing, and yet I have to point something out here.

    Intelligent life, while admittedly is a potential cause of, is actually the first possible defense that this planet's ecosystem has evolved against an extinction level event.

    Stopping a super volcano might still be a bit of a stretch at this current time (give it time though), but the whole asteroid thing - intelligent life actually might have a chance, even right now, of stopping another big whack to the planet.

    Think about how the shell evolved: might intelligent life be some kind of earth shell? some kind of life shield?

    To be clear, I don't ascribe to some magical teleological aspect of the universe, nor some gaia hypotesis: I'm not saying this is WHY we are here or WHY we were made - but hey, shells evolve big and small - why couldn't we, humanity, become life and earths greatest ally?

    Sure, we mightn't, but why we shouldn't nor couldn't?
  • I've read both. As well as the literature.
    The uncertainties are not whether or not its happening, it's about the margin of error in the time line. As it is turning out, they(scientist who are an expert in this field) have been mostly too conservative in that.

    Do you even understand the basic science of this?

    Since you can't seem to look at science, that's look at the real world political practicalities. well, 1 of them.

    China has the most to lose with global warming. Yet they agree its also man made. Do you think China is part of some environmentalist conspiracy?

  • by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @08:58PM (#46291609) Journal

    No, it is not millions of people.

    BILLIONS of people will be displaced if the water level rises even a moderate amount. Here is a fun toy [geology.com] It only covers part of the world, but the hyperlinked areas are illuminating.

    Notice how even a small increase will shut down some of the most populated regions of the world as the cities are right on the coast. China will likely see a billion displaced. India might have a a half billion displaced.

    The US might see only around 40 million displaced, but having New York, San Francisco, LA, Houston, Miami, and a bunch of others at least partially underwater or seasonally flooded will be difficult enough. That means rebuilding the infrastructure for millions of people in the United States alone. When Hurricane Katrina type flooding becomes an annual event due to higher sea levels, continuously rebuilding the cities will not be an option. People will be displaced and the annually-flooded buildings looted and condemned.

    Wars are very likely. Look at India losing about half of its useful land and displacing so many people; suddenly all the land to the North looks mighty inviting, even with their arsenals. The Nile Delta flooding could displace seven million; there isn't much nearby green on the map for them to move to within the country. Netherlands probably won't survive as we know it, so what about erasing the line between them and Germany? That one at least has a chance of being somewhat civil.

    When you combine the stress of losing a lot of land, some countries having their land vanish almost completely, and billions of displaced individuals, tensions are going to skyrocket very quickly.

    Long-term real estate investors and the filthy rich have been picking up tracts of land in places that are elevated, cool, and have fresh water sources. Most people haven't really noticed.

UNIX is many things to many people, but it's never been everything to anybody.