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Scientists recreated ‘The Great Dying’ in a lab3 min read

November 2, 2020 2 min read


Scientists recreated ‘The Great Dying’ in a lab3 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

All Things Science

250 million years ago, a volcanic eruption in Siberia spewed large portions of CO2 into the atmosphere causing the biggest mass extinction on Earth.
The Permian-Triassic mass extinction transformed the planet.
Before the eruption, the earth was a consolidated body of land, like a supercontinent, called Pangaea. But with the eruption, the planet changed forever! 95% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial species were wiped out as the oceans became acidic and the air, toxic.  Earth took millions of years to recover from this catastrophe that is aptly called The Great Dying.

How did scientists find out the cause?

A model in the study replicating the conditions in the Permian period.
Sourced from The Guardian.

To understand this phenomena,  researchers modelled the conditions of the period and studied fossils of clam like shellfish called brachiopods that once lived on the seafloor. These fossils led them to read the pH (level of acidity) levels of the ocean at the time of the catastrophe.

What does the pH level tell us about the seawater?

Have you ever taken a pill or soda water for acidity? If yes, then you must know what the ocean could feel like with increasing acidity!

An increased pH level means that the seawater is more alkaline or basic.
A decreased pH level means that the seawater is more acidic.
The present pH level of seawater is 8.1, which is alkaline.
The pH level at the time of Great Dying was 0.6-0.7, which is highly acidic and therefore, toxic. 

By studying the decreased seawater pH, scientists were able to relate the cause of the Great Dying with excessive carbon content in the air and water resources of the Earth, that was a result of the volcanic eruption.

Scientists recreated the conditions of the Great Dying in a mini chamber. Watch the process, here-

Carbon is not alien to us. And the fact that greenhouse gases continue to warm up the planet is also old news, now. Research indicates that oceans are acidifying, harming marine life. Global warming is rampant, too. 

Therefore, research on the Great Dying can teach us a lot about the future of climatic conditions and geological processes on Earth.
Owliver will get back to you when there is more information but for now, do a little digging of your own!

Think with Owliver:
What species were around during the time of the Great Dying? Who among them survived?
Leave your responses in the comments, below.

Image sourced from NPR

(All Things Science is a weekly column on astronomy, space and science)

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